They say experience counts for a lot in football finals, and Melbourne has it in bucketloads.
Statistics from Fox Sports Lab show the Storm have named the most experienced finals squad of all eight title contenders, for their qualifying final romp with the Raiders on Saturday.
And that’s bad news for Ricky Stuart’s men.
Because Canberra is one of the least experienced squads when it comes to NRL finals games.
In fact there’s a gulf of 111 games’ worth of finals experience separating the Storm and the Raiders this week.
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Melbourne boasts 160 NRL finals games played collectively between the 21 players on the list.
Needless to say captain Cameron Smith tops the lot with 36 games to his name, as well as 202 points scored in finals across a glittering career.
Others like Will Chambers (18), Cameron Munster (11), Jesse Bromwich (19), Kenny Bromwich (13), and Dale Finucane (19) have all cracked double figures.
Canberra? None – that’s right, nada – of their 21-man squad have played double figures worth of finals games.
Collectively the Raiders have racked up 49 finals, and it’s their journeyman centre Joey Leilua topping the pile with nine to his name. Captain Jarrod Croker has only six on his ledger.
For context, though, the 17 players Melbourne has actually named to run onto the field have 151 finals’ worth of experience. Curtis Scott (6 games) and Brodie Croft (3) are on the extended bench.
The Melbourne squad also collectively has a finals win percentage of 69.4, while the Raiders are only at 36.7 per cent.
Elsewhere, Manly is giving up 74 games of finals experience to Cronulla in their do-or-die final at Brookvale.
The Sharks have collectively played 120 finals between their 21 players, while the Sea Eagles have only 46.
The Roosters have played 159 finals between them against the Rabbitohs’ 80, and Brisbane has 114 finals to Parramatta’s 54.
Here’s our full finals preview in The Big Picture.
Sydney Roosters (2) vs South Sydney (3) at the SCG, 7:50pm
Roosters: 1. James Tedesco 2. Daniel Tupou 3. Latrell Mitchell 4. Joseph Manu 5. Brett Morris 6. Luke Keary 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 9. Sam Verrills 10. Isaac Liu 11. Boyd Cordner 12. Mitchell Aubusson 13. Victor Radley 14. Angus Crichton 15. Zane Tetevano 16. Nat Butcher 17. Siosiua Taukeiaho 18. Lindsay Collins 19. Sitili Tupouniua 20. Drew Hutchison 21. Ryan Hall
Rabbitohs: 1. Adam Doueihi 2. Alex Johnston 3. James Roberts 4. Campbell Graham 5. Corey Allan 6. Cody Walker 7. Adam Reynolds 8. Junior Tatola 9. Damien Cook 10. Liam Knight 11. John Sutton 12. Jaydn Su’A 13. Cameron Murray 14. Ethan Lowe 15. Dean Britt 16. Thomas Burgess 17. Mark Nicholls 18. George Burgess 19. Bayley Sironen 20. Connor Tracey 21. Mawene Hiroti
Referees: Gerard Sutton and Adam Gee (review official Jared Maxwell)
The talking point: It’s already added a chapter to Russell Crowe’s famous Book of Feuds … Sam Burgess is banned from the game for pulling the hair of Billy Smith last week, while Chooks enforcer Jared Waerea-Hargreaves successfully fought his own suspension at the judiciary on Tuesday night. Waerea-Hargreaves was controversially let off his shoulder charge which left Souths opponent Liam Knight knocked out and bloodied. South Sydney will be fuming and fired up.
The Fox Sports Lab stat: Since compulsory grand finals were introduced in 1954, these two rugby league stalwart clubs have surprisingly only played two finals games against one another. On both occasions – in 2014 and 2018 – the winner of that meeting would go on to win the premiership. Prior to their 2014 preliminary final clash they had not met in a finals game since 1938.
The odds (courtesy of Sportsbet): Roosters $1.30, Rabbitohs $3.45
Our prediction: Roosters by 6
Melbourne Storm (1) vs Canberra Raiders (4) at AAMI Park, 5:35pm
Storm: 1. Ryan Papenhuyzen 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 3. Will Chambers 4. Justin Olam 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Cameron Munster 7. Jahrome Hughes 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Cameron Smith 10. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Kenneath Bromwich 13. Dale Finucane 14. Brandon Smith 15. Tui Kamikamica 16. Max King 17. Joe Stimson 18. Curtis Scott 19. Tino Faasuamaleaui 20. Brodie Croft 21. Tom Eisenhuth
Raiders: 1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 2. Nick Cotric 3. Jarrod Croker 4. Joseph Leilua 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Jack Wighton 7. Aidan Sezer 8. Josh Papalii 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Iosia Soliola 11. John Bateman 12. Elliott Whitehead 13. Joseph Tapine 14. Bailey Simonsson 15. Dunamis Lui 16. Corey Horsburgh 17. Ryan Sutton 18. Sam Williams 19. Emre Guler 20. Siliva Havili 21. Hudson Young
Referees: Ashley Klein and Chris Sutton (review official Bryan Norrie)
The talking point: Canberra has a horror record against Melbourne … in fact, it’s their worst against any team in the competition at just 12 wins from 43 games (27.9 per cent). And down in the southern capital it gets even worse. But a 22-18 victory in Round 22 will have put wind in the Raiders’ sails and Ricky Stuart’s men will be full of confidence they can knock off the minor premiers.
The Fox Sports Lab stat: Pay attention to the 20 minutes after half time. In this period of the game, Melbourne is second best in the competition at scoring points (average 6.8) and Canberra is the worst at conceding points, leaking 4.8 per game this season. That 20 minutes could decide the match if Storm run in a couple of tries.
The odds (courtesy of Sportsbet): Storm $1.41, Raiders $2.85
Our prediction: Storm by 4
Manly Sea Eagles (6) vs Cronulla Sharks (7) at Lottoland, 7:50pm
Sea Eagles: 1. Brendan Elliot 2. Jorge Taufua 3. Brad Parker 4. Moses Suli 5. Reuben Garrick 6. Dylan Walker 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Addin Fonua-Blake 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. Sean Keppie 11. Corey Waddell 12. Jack Gosiewski 13. Jake Trbojevic 14. Manase Fainu 15. Haumole Olakauatu 16. Lloyd Perrett 17. Toafofoa Sipley 18. Lachlan Croker 19. Cade Cust 20. Tevita Funa 21. Tony Williams
Sharks: 1. Josh Dugan 2. Sosaia Feki 3. Bronson Xerri 4. Josh Morris 5. Aaron Gray 6. Shaun Johnson 7. Chad Townsend 8. Aaron Woods 9. Jayden Brailey 10. Matt Prior 11. Briton Nikora 12. Wade Graham 13. Paul Gallen 14. Kurt Capewell 15. Jack Williams 16. Andrew Fifita 17. Braden Hamlin-Uele 18. Billy Magoulias 19. Blayke Brailey 20. Kyle Flanagan 21. Matt Moylan
Referees: Matt Cecchin and Henry Perenara (review official Ben Galea)
The talking point: Manly would have almost certainly been favourites for this game before a horror injury and suspension toll ruined the team. A season-ending injury to Tom Trbojevic and a suspension to Marty Taupau compounded the situation and now the Sea Eagles are suddenly outsiders on their home turf. But, don’t forget, they have the Mad Scientist at the helm.
The Fox Sports Lab stat: Shaun Johnson doesn’t want to speak about it but we’ll do it for him … Cronulla’s record against Manly, and at Brookvale in particular, is woeful. The Sea Eagles have won 65 of 91 meetings with the Sharks for a whopping 70 per cent record. Since 2009 that increases to 90 per cent. Cronulla hasn’t won at Brookvale since 2008, and overall they’ve won just five of 39 trips across the Harbour Bridge.
The odds (courtesy of Sportsbet): Sea Eagles $2.54, Sharks $1.50
Our prediction: Sharks by 10
Parramatta Eels (5) vs Brisbane Broncos (8) at Bankwest Stadium, 4pm
Eels: 1. Clint Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Michael Jennings 4. Waqa Blake 5. Blake Ferguson 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Kane Evans 9. Reed Mahoney 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 12. Manu Ma’u 13. Nathan Brown 14. Brad Takairangi 15. Daniel Alvaro 16. Ray Stone 17. Marata Niukore 18. Tepai Moeroa 19. Will Smith 20. Peni Terepo 21. Josh Hoffman
Broncos: 1. Anthony Milford 5. Jamayne Isaako 3. Kotoni Staggs 4. Alex Glenn 2. Corey Oates 6. Darius Boyd 7. Jake Turpin 8. Matthew Lodge 9. Andrew McCullough 10. Payne Haas 11. David Fifita 12. Matt Gillett 13. Joe Ofahengaue 14. James Segeyaro 15. Thomas Flegler 16. Gehamat Shibasaki 17. Patty Carrigan 18. Rhys Kennedy 19. Izaia Perese 20. Shaun Fensom 21. Cory Paix
Referees: Ben Cummins and Grant Atkins (review official Bryan Norrie)
The talking point: Brisbane has not had a happy time in Sydney this season, losing five of their six trips into NSW. The last time they met Parramatta at this venue they lost 38-10 in Round 14. It’s a fact not lost on the Broncos. “To be honest we have been pretty s**t in Sydney. Everyone knows that,” Matt Lodge told media on Wednesday.
The Fox Sports Lab stat: Of the four finals match-ups this week, this is the game that has averaged the most points in 2019. The Eels and Broncos average 42.9 points per meeting … so expect a high-scoring one.
The odds (courtesy of Sportsbet): Eels $1.50, Broncos $2.55
Our prediction: Eels by 1