NRL Grand Final

Source: Colin Whelan/AAP
Billy Slater and Ben Barba will go head to head in the Grand Final. Source: Colin Whelan/AAP
The two best teams in the competition will meet in the NRL Grand Final on Sunday, with the Bulldogs  and Melbourne Storm  set to fight it out for the 2012 Premiership. The Bulldogs are lining up in their first decider since beating the Sydney Roosters 16-13 in 2004, while this is the fifth Grand Final that Melbourne has contested in the past seven seasons.

Des Hasler has named the same 18 man squad that scored a 32-8 win over Souths in Saturday’s preliminary final, with Dene Halatau likely to be the man that misses out again. Despite trailing 8-6 early in that match, the Bulldogs regrouped to score 26 unanswered points in the final 45 minutes to setup a showdown with the Storm.

Winger Sisa Waqa has been named to return from a knee injury that saw him miss his side’s 40-12 flogging of defending premiers Manly last weekend, with Mahe Fonua dropping out of the starting side. He was one of eight men named on an extended bench by Craig Bellamy, but is likely to join Rory Kostjasyn, Siosaia Vave and Anthony Quinn as spectators on Sunday evening.

History – There has historically been little between these sides, with the 29 meetings between the pair producing 15 wins for Melbourne and 14 for Canterbury. The Storm has won seven of the past ten clashes and hasn’t lost to the Bulldogs in Sydney since 2004. Crucially however, the Sydneysiders triumphed 20-4 in Mackay when the pair did battle in round 16. Their other showdown in 2012 resulted in a 12-6 win for the Storm at AAMI Park.

Dangermen – Melbourne custodian Billy Slater is arguably the best fullback in history, but could face a tough task winning the battle of the number ones on Sunday. Dally M medallist Ben Barba has been in sensational form this year and will be trying to better everything that his opposite number does.

Slater was back to his devastating best against Manly last weekend with two tries, ten tackle breaks and three line breaks against the Sea Eagles. He will be awfully hard to control if he is in the same mood in the decider.

Ben Barba may have been below his best in the past fortnight but he has still given opposition coaches plenty of headaches. Already crowned the competitions best player and leading tryscorer this season, the 23 year old will want to cap a stellar season with a premiership medal.

Prediction – This match has the potential to be one of the best Grand Final’s in recent years, with the two standout clubs from this year’s competition locking horns. Melbourne has the big game players and plenty of experience in their ranks, with nine players having played 19 Grand Finals between them), but the Bulldogs also know how to win - they have won 15 of their past 16 matches and ten straight at ANZ Stadium. Playing at their home ground will be a big advantage for the Bulldogs, but may not be enough to see of the Storm, who have been here and done it all before. Melbourne 1-12

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