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Storm vs Sharks NRL grand final: The ultra definitive stats preview

The Roar The Roar 30/09/2016 Tim Gore
Kevin Proctor of the Storm is tackled during the round 26 NRL match between the Melbourne Storm and the Cronulla Sharks at AAMI Park on September 3, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia. © Quinn Rooney/Getty Images Kevin Proctor of the Storm is tackled during the round 26 NRL match between the Melbourne Storm and the Cronulla Sharks at AAMI Park on September 3, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia.

So the NRL season all comes down to this: Cronulla vs Melbourne. Will it be the Bad News Sharks from the Shire or the boys from the Purple Octagon?

Can the Sharks relieve 50 seasons of disappointment or will Bellamy’s boys grind out yet another Grand Final triumph, in this, the very first decider where the opposing State of Origin captains have faced off against each other.

Cronulla Sharks vs Melbourne Storm

9:15pm, Sunday 2 October, ANZ Stadium

How will the game play out? The stats are sure to give a very good indication.

The Storm’s overall record

This is the Storm’s 500th NRL match since they entered the competition in 1998. They have a remarkable win ratio of 63.5 per cent over those 19 years.

39 – eight per cent – those games have been finals. That’s an average of two finals games a season. No team has played more finals games over that period. They have only missed the finals in 2001, 2002 and, of course, 2010 due to their ban for systematically rorting the salary cap over five seasons.

They have a 61.5 per cent win ratio in finals (24 wins from 39). That goes up to 64.5 per cent since Cameron Smith first played finals footy in 2003. That goes up again to 68 per cent over the last ten years (17 wins from 25).

The Sharks’ overall record

This will be the Sharks 1320th game since they entered the NSWRL in 1967. They have a win ratio of 48% over those 50 seasons.

The Sharks have played just 42 finals matches over those 50 seasons. That’s an average of 0.84 finals games a season and just 3.2 per cent of their total games. They have won just 18 of those finals games (42.8 per cent). In the last decade they have played just nine finals games but have a 55.5 per cent win ratio (five from nine).

The History

Overall: This will be the 32nd match between these sides. It stands 21-10 in the Storm’s favour. There have been 22 games between these sides since Craig Bellamy became the Storm coach in 2003.

The Storm have won 16 of them (73 per cent). The Sharks have not beaten the Storm away from Shark Park since Round 2, 2008.

The last ten: The Storm have won eight of the last ten matches between these sides. In fact the Storm have won 13 of the last 16. The most recent Sharks win was at Shark Park in Round 4 this year. Craig Bellamy commented after the match that it was the first time in all his years coaching the Storm that they had been beaten up the middle.

At ANZ Stadium: The last time these sides met here was eight seasons ago in 2009. The Storm won 30-10. There have been eight matches between these sides at the Olympic Stadium. Both sides have won four each.

ANZ Stadium’s coming redevelopment will create a true cauldron for massive games (Image: ANZ Stadium)

Finals: This will be only the second time that these teams have met in the finals. The first time was the 2008 preliminary final at the Sydney Football Stadium. The Storm ran out 28-0 winners, in spite of having Cam Smith out due to suspension for his head grapple on Sam Thaiday. Of course, the next week they suffered their fourth biggest loss ever – and their second biggest loss of the Bellamy era – when they lost the grand final 40-0 to the Sea Eagles.

Only two players from the Sharks side from the 2008 prelim take the field for this match: Captain Paul Gallen and Blake Green, now the Storm five-eighth. Cooper Cronk is the only Storm player backing up from that game.

Form: The Sharks have won three from the last five games. However, that run includes their 26-6 Round 26 loss to the Storm. The Storm have won four of their last five games. The loss was the Round 25 match against the Broncos.


Mat Cecchin has refereed just two games between these sides. The Sharks 14-6 win in Round 4 and the Storm’s 48-6 win in Melbourne in 2014.

Cecchin has run 38 Storm games dating back to 2001. The Storm have won 23 of those at 60.52 per cent. Cecchin has run five Storm games in Sydney and they’ve only won one of those – over the Panthers in 2008.

He has also run five Storm finals games with the Storm winning two.

He has run 26 Sharks games with the boys from the Shire winning 15 – 65 per cent. The Sharks have won the last six games he has officiated, including the last five in Sydney.

Cecchin has presided over three Sharks finals games and they have won every one.

The last match between these sides at this venue in 2009 – the 30-10 win to the Storm – was refereed by Ben Cummins. He has officiated three games between these sides, the latest being in 2012, with the Storm winning two, the Sharks one.

The Sharks have won 22 of 38 games that Cummins has run involving them (58 per cent).

The Storm have had the pleasure of Cummins’ officiating 40 times. They’ve won 28 of those (70 per cent). The Storm have won 75 per cent of the games that they’ve played in Sydney under Cummins.

Last weekend’s preliminary final between the Sharks and the Cowboys was the first Sharks finals match that Ben Cummins has officiated.

Scoring by Quarters

I have painstakingly kept records of each NRL sides scoring in 2016. We can now get a pretty good indication of how this match will play out by comparing the Sharks attack and defence against the Storm attack and defence. To make this even more precise, we will just examine their scores against the other sides that finished the home and away season in the top eight.

Sharks Attack/Storm Defence

Sharks  attack3.
Storm defence3.

The middle forty minutes of the game looks to be the most likely for the Sharks to score points.

Given the Storm’s miserly defence directly after half time, from the 21st minute to half time is their best chance. The Sharks need to be in front at half time if they hope to win as the Storm have won all but one match this season when they were in front at half time: the Round 4 loss to the Sharks.

The problem here is that the Sharks have not scored a try in the opening twenty minutes of their last five games.

Storm Attack/Sharks defence

Storm attack4.
Sharks defence5.

The Storm have reasonable regular scoring throughout games. However, like the Sharks, they are most dangerous in the 20 minutes before half time.

The Sharks really need to score early points in this game if they are to win.

The question is will they be able settle into the grand final quickly enough to do that? These figures give the game to the Storm by just three points.

Let’s now break these comparisons down further to games against top four opposition.

Here is what both sides average scoring looks like against the different cohorts:

Sharks (F – A)Storm  (F – A)
All opposition26.2-18.322.5 – 12
Vs Top Eight22.2-19.521.5 – 12
Vs Top Four21.3-20.313.6 – 12

As we looked at last week, the Storm concede 12 points a game. Against the top four they only average 14 points scored. I’d say you need to score over 16 if you are to beat them. And every time the Storm have conceded 18 points or more to a top eight side this year they have lost.

The Sharks can do that. However, the statistically predicted score gives this game to the Storm – just.

Statistically predicted score: Storm 16.95 vs 16.65 Sharks


Team Stats – average per game 2016

Line breaks conceded2.7 (2nd)2.3 (1st)+0.4 Sharks
Missed tackles27.8 (12th)19.7 (1st)+8.1  Sharks
tries conceded2.8 (3rd)2.1 (1st)+0.7 Sharks
Errors10.8 (15th)8.5 (1st)+2.3 Sharks
Meters conceded1328 (4th)1358 (6th)+30 Storm
Penalties conceded7.5 (15th)6.8 (7th)+0.7 Sharks

Here is why the Storm have a massive advantage going into this match: They are the best in the four key defensive stats.

Not only does the Purple wall rarely let anything through, they also have the very best ball control in the NRL. They give you nothing, the Storm.

Unfortunately, the Sharks do give their opponents gifts. Their missed tackles are a serious liability. Secondly, they concede a lot of penalties, the second most in the competition. No side capitalises on gifted field position like the Storm either.

Player Stats

Tackles made

Michael Ennis – 37

Paul Gallen – 31

Andrew Fifita – 31

Cam Smith – 43

Kevin Proctor – 35

Dale Finucane – 34

Missed tackles

James Maloney – 3.5

Kurt Capewell – 2.8

Wade Graham – 2.6

Luke Lewis – 2.4

Will Chambers – 2.7

Cheyse Blair – 2.0

Penalties conceded

Michael Ennis – 28

James Maloney – 26

Andrew Fifita – 22

Kevin Proctor – 19

Cam Smith – 18

Jesse Bromwich – 11


Jack Bird – 25

Valentine Holmes – 25

James Maloney – 22

Chad Townshend – 21

Luke Lewis – 20

Michael Ennis – 20

Ben Barba – 19

Marika Koroibete – 28

Suliasi Vunivalu – 21

Cooper Cronk – 20

And there are your missed tackle culprits. As good as both can be, Luke Lewis and Wade Graham miss a few too many tackles, and James Maloney is a star in attack but can be a speed bump in defence.

Then there is there list of seven players who have significant error issues. If things start going wrong for the Sharks they could go very wrong. Further, the Sharks have the three most penalised players of 2016 in Ennis, Maloney and Fifita.

While Ennis and Maloney mostly indulge in tactical penalties, Fifita has more than a few brain explosions in him.

The weaknesses for the Storm are on the Edges. 33 of the 55 tries they,ve conceded have been on the extreme edges. Will Chambers and Cheyse Blair are their dodgiest defenders. However, both have been steadily improving recently.


Team Stats – average per game 2016

Line breaks 4.4 (5th)4.9 (2nd)+0.5 Storm
Tackle breaks28.1 (3rd)27.3 (5th)+0.8 Sharks
tries scored4.0 (3rd)3.9 (6th)+0.1 Sharks
Meters made1432 (4th)1469 (2nd)+37 Storm
Penalties received7.5 (2nd)7.3 (4th)+0.2 Sharks

The Sharks main chance in this game is put down to their attacking flair.

However, looking at these stats there isn’t really a struck match between them. In fact the Storm are second only to the Raiders in line breaks. Further, the Storm are the second best metre gaining side in the competition. The Sharks can certainly go with them but it is very evenly matched.

Player Stats

Tackle breaks

Andrew Fifita – 3.6

Ben Barba – 3.5

Jack Bird – 3.0

Cameron Munster – 6.0

Marika Koroibete – 2.7

Cheyse Blair – 2.4

Line breaks

Valentine Holmes – 20

Ben Barba – 17

SosaiaFeki – 12

Suliasi Vunivalu – 19

Marika Koroibete – 18

Cameron Munster – 15

Metres gained

Andrew Fifita – 163

Paul Gallen – 159

Valentine Holmes -120

Marika Koroibete – 155

Cameron Munster – 150

Jesse Bromwich – 140

tries scored

Valentine Holmes – 19

Ben Barba – 15

Sosaia Feki – 14

Suliasi Vunivalu – 23

Marika Koroibete – 12

Cooper Cronk – 12

Try assists

Ben Barba – 17

Chad Townshend – 10

Michael Ennis – 8

James Maloney – 8

Cooper Cronk – 22

Cameron Smith – 12

Cam Munster – 11

Blake Green – 9

Line break assists

Ben Barba – 13

Chad Townshend – 8

James Maloney – 7

Cooper Cronk – 18

Cam Munster – 16

Blake Green – 9

Cameron Smith – 9


Andrew Fifita – 67

Paul Gallen – 32

Ben Barba – 29

Luke Lewis – 25

Wade Graham – 25

Jesse Bromwich – 46

Christian Welch – 23

Tohu Harris – 21

The Sharks best chance in this game is getting lots of second phase play and they’ve certainly got the offloaders to do that. Andrew Fifita is the number one offloader in the game. Jesse Bromwich is no slouch either.

In regard to playmaking, Ben Barba and Cooper Cronk are leading the way for their sides. However, James Maloney – who is only the seventh player to play for three clubs in a grand final – for mine holds the key.

He’ll be up for this contest and is the bloke who can pick a hole in the purple wall, the first club he played for.

The battle between Fifita and Bromwich in the forwards should be worth the price of admission. As will the battle on the edges between some of the game’s best finishers, including the years equal leading try scorer in Suliasi Vunivalu.

As an aside, Cam Smith needs 11 points to become the fifth player to score 2000 points.

The Danger Men

James Maloney. As I’ve said above, the boy from Orange holds the key for the Sharks. His exuberance has been no small part of the Sharks surge this year. Just as he did in the 2013 grand final, he could make the difference.

Andrew Fifita. Yes, the bloke can have a brain explosion like few others. However, his metres, tackle breaks and offloads could destroy the Storm.

Ben Barba. He got to the 2012 grand final against this same opposition and it has taken him until this year to reclaim his form from that season. And he’s due for a big one too.

Cameron Munster. six tackle breaks and 150 metres a game is offset by his try scoring and playmaking abilities. While he isn’t quite Billy Slater, the kid has real promise. I sense a big one from him.

Cam Smith. He’ll not only keep his side focused on the task at hand, he’ll control the oppositions ruck speed as much as he can.

Cooper Cronk. The bloke is unquestionably a champion. Is he my favourite bloke in the game, no. But mostly it is because he so regularly beats my lads. And he beats most comers because he is a cut above. His kicking, passing and running is all top class. He is central to the Storm’s chances in this game.

Defence is crucial

In the last ten years on only two occasions has the team with the lesser defence in terms of points conceded prevailed in the grand final. The Cowboys last year beat the better defensively ranked Broncos. However, the Cowboys had the better ranked attack. In 2008 the Sea Eagles flogged the Cam Smithless Storm.

However, on all other eight instances the team with the better defence over the season has prevailed.

The Sharks have had a great year in defence and are ranked third overall. However, the Storm are the best ranked defence in the NRL this season.

Grand Final penalties

I’ve long suspected that referees swallow the whistles in grand finals. And now I’ve put together the stats to prove it.

Here is a table that shows the penalties in the last ten grand finals:

YearWinning teamGF Penalties Conceded

Season average

(& rank)

Losing Team GF Penalties conceded

Season average

(& rank)

2015Cowboys56.6 (8th)Broncos44.8 (16th)
2014Rabbitohs66.8 (6th)Bulldogs57.6 (2nd)
2013Roosters26.6 (1st)Sea Eagles56.1 (2nd)
2012Storm45.1 (5th)Bulldogs56.3 (1st)
2011Sea Eagles35.9  (3rd)Warriors35.5 (5th)
2010Dragons25 (11th)Roosters56.4 (1st)
2009Storm55.5 (10th)Eels35.3 (12th)
2008Sea Eagles47.2 (2nd)Storm57.5 (1st)
2007Storm26.3 (8th)Sea Eagles56.2 (9th)
2006Broncos44.8 (12th)Storm56.2 (4th)

What we can see from this is that on average the referees do award 33 per cent less penalties than usual in the deciders.

A few weeks ago Ricky Stuart posed the question about what sort of game we saw depended on how the referees officiated.

If the referees policed the ruck and the offside strictly then we’d get open games, if they didn’t then the game would effectively be played in the Octagon (a metaphor for MMA-style wrestling).

To properly police the ruck and the offside requires penalties to be awarded. However, if we can expect a third fewer penalties in this match it flows that we’ll have slow play the balls and less open play. That suits the Storm.

This season the Storm have conceded the 7th most penalties with 6.8 a game. The Sharks are the second most penalised team this year, conceding 7.5 a match.

It is a trend worth noting that out of the 22 grand final spots on offer in the last eleven seasons (including this year), eight (36 per cent) have gone to one of the seasons top two most penalised sides.

Twice we’ve seen the two most penalised sides in the same season rewarded with grand final berths (2013, 2008).

Grand Final experience

One of the crucial statistics for any grand finals is the relative amount of experience in deciders. Both the Sharks and the Storm both have six players with grand final experience.

Cameron Smith – 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012Ben Barba – 2012
Cooper Cronk – 2006, 2007,2008, 2009, 2012Michael Ennis – 2012
Jesse Bromwich – 2012James Maloney – 2011, 2013
Dale Finucane – 2012Luke Lewis – 2003
Kevin Proctor –2012Chris Heighington – 2005
Will Chambers – 2009, 2012Matt Prior – 2010

The Storm boast 14 games of grand final experience amongst them, nine of those are owned by Cronk and Smith.

Further 12 of those games are winning games. Conversely, the Sharks have only seven games of experience amongst them, with four of them winning experiences.

However, the Sharks are the most experience side cumulative game wise to ever contest a grand final. Collectively they have 2742 NRL games between them.

Paul Gallen with 278 games becomes the most experienced player ever to make his grand final debut.

Who is going to win and why

The Sharks can win this game. They can.

But they won’t.

Harold Holt ain’t coming back, at least not for this game. While all five sides in the NRL era who have made the grand final after finishing third have won the decider, that theme is highly unlikely to continue this time.

The Storm have played in five of the last ten deciders. They have won four of them. The only one they didn’t win was when their talisman captain Cam Smith was out suspended in 2008. Smith will play this game. So will Cooper Cronk, who has played in all five of those deciders.

They will squeeze the life out of this game to get the result.

Only six of the premiers in the NRL era (33 per cent) have finished outside the top four the previous season. Further, 60 per cent of the time the premier has played in a decider within the past six seasons.

The Sharks finished sixth in 2015 and this is their first decider in a unified competition since 1978. That’s two years before Jeremy Smith was even born. I watched that game on a Pye black and white television (not the replay though as that was held on a Tuesday).

Before the season started I did a statistical analysis that predicted either the Roosters or the Storm would be Premiers in 2016. As the Rooster’s captain was having distinct issues at that point, I put my money on the Storm at 13-1.

I figured if I didn’t pay attention to the stats then who would?

While I’d love to see a high scoring end to end Grand Final that has us all gripped until the very end, I just don’t see it happening. And I just can’t see the Sharks wining.

Fearless Prediction: The Storm to win by 1-12.

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