Stat Attack: Storm most experienced grand final team of NRL era

The 37 grand final caps shared among Melbourne's 2018 Telstra Premiership grand final team is the most of any decider in the NRL era – though NRL.com Stats suggests previous grand final experience is far from a guarantee of success.

That milestone comes despite the departure of veteran halfback Cooper Cronk and his seven grand final caps to this week's opponents the Roosters, and the omission of veteran Ryan Hoffman. Melbourne's total games of grand final experience would jump up to a massive 41 if Hoffman were to replace young back-rower Joe Stimson, one of just three Storm players set to make their grand final debuts on Sunday.

The bulk of caps come from Billy Slater and Cameron Smith (six each) but Will Chambers has four (all at Melbourne) and Dale Finucane also has four (two at the Storm, two at Canterbury).

Plenty of other players are heading into their third decider in as many seasons, including Tim Glasby, Felise Kaufusi, Cameron Munster, Kenny Bromwich, Suliasi Vunivalu (in just his third season of NRL) and Jesse Bromwich, who also played in 2012 for a total of three previous caps.

If Cronk fails to overcome a shoulder injury, the 37-9 disparity in grand final caps will be the second-biggest gulf in grand final experience of the NRL era. If Hoffman plays and Cronk doesn't it would be the biggest gulf of the NRL era.

The current record was in 2004 when a Roosters team with 34 caps (racked up largely through the 2000, 2002 and 2003 deciders) was beaten by a star-studded Bulldogs side that had just four previous grand finals amongst them. Corey Hughes and Tony Grimaldi remained from the 1998 Bulldogs grand final while Andrew Ryan (2001 Eels) and Luke Patten (1999 Dragons) had the other two.

The next biggest gap of 25 came in 2009 when the Storm (29 caps) downed a late-surging Eels (four caps).

Even if Cronk miraculously plays, the likely 37-16 gulf in experience this Sunday will still be the fourth biggest gap of the NRL era behind 2004, 2009 and 2000 (a 27-3 advantage to winners Brisbane over the Roosters).

A look through the archives reveals that of the 20 grand finals of the NRL era, 10 have been won by the team with more experience while 10 have been won by the team with less.

However this latter figure includes three games where the gap was very narrow and both teams were low on experience. In 2005 when a Wests Tigers team with two caps beat a Cowboys team with three, in the least experienced grand final of the NRL era.

In 2010 both teams had just two players with grand final experience but Anthony Minichiello (four) tipped the experience scales to the Roosters 5-4 though they lost to a Dragons team that had just Jeremy Smith (three) and Darius Boyd (one) with prior experience. In 1999 the Dragons had nine caps and lost to a Storm team with six (five of those in the shape of ex-Broncos and Raiders prop Glen Lazarus).

Across the 20 deciders, winning teams have gone in with a total of 255 caps at an average of 12.75 per game while losing teams have gone in with 209 caps at an average of 10.45 per game. These numbers do not include other big-game experience such as preliminary finals, Origins and Tests, or UK Super League deciders.

While there is arguably a slight advantage to be found in the overall numbers from having more experience, there are just as many examples of the less experienced team triumphing which is a positive omen for a Roosters team up against the most experienced grand final side in NRL history.

 

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