MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 25:  Cameron Smith of the Melbourne Storm runs with the ball during the round eight NRL match between the Melbourne Storm and the New Zealand Warriors at AAMI Park on April 25, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 25: Cameron Smith of the Melbourne Storm runs with the ball during the round eight NRL match between the Melbourne Storm and the New Zealand Warriors at AAMI Park on April 25, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images) Scott Barbour

NRL Grand Final: Everything you need to know

KICK-OFF time for the NRL grand final between Melbourne Storm and North Queensland Cowboys is 7.30pm (AEDT - 6.30pm Queensland time).

It will be broadcast live on Channel 9.

The Storm have been the best team all year, losing just four times, and blitzed the Broncos 30-0 in their preliminary final.

North Queensland are on a finals run for the ages, fighting through from eighth spot to progress to their third grand final, all without their talisman Johnathan Thurston.

It shapes as a battle for the ages, a team reeking of destiny against the greatest rugby league dynasty of the modern age.

 

Billy Slater of the Storm
Billy Slater of the Storm JOE CASTRO

MELBOURNE STORM

Melbourne have been setting the pace all season and are deserved favourites heading into the grand final.

They have been below their best in their two finals matches but have still managed to down Parramatta 18-16 and smash Brisbane 30-0 to earn their second consecutive grand final berth, making this their seventh grand final under Craig Bellamy.

The match is expected to be the last time Melbourne's big three of Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater take the field in Storm colours. Cronk will leave the club at the end of the year and is expected to retire.

That experienced trio, Jesse Bromwich and centre Will Chambers are the only players in the Storm side remaining from their 2012 grand final winning side. Josh Addo-Carr, Curtis Scott, Felise Kaufsui, Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Slade Griffin are the only five players who have not played in a grand final before.

CASUALTY WARD

Christian Welch (ACL, season), Cheyse Blair (ankle, season), Brodie Croft (hamstring, season)

 

Josh Addo-Carr
Josh Addo-Carr JOE CASTRO

X-FACTOR

Josh Addo-Carr has taken some tremendous strides as a player this season, and while there are still some errors in his game he has the speed and game-breaking ability to take any chance all the way home. As we saw in the preliminary final, Addo-Carr can change a game with a single touch and if he gets some clean ball and a bit of space you can forget about it.

NEEDS TO LIFT

No single player at the Storm needs to lift but they'll have to fix the lacklustre starts to matches that have plagued them over the last few weeks. In both the qualifying final and the preliminary final Melbourne put themselves under all manner of pressure with a series of early errors that are most unlike the Storm we've come to know.

CLIVE CHURCHILL MEDAL FAVOURITE

Cameron Smith because duh, he's Cameron Smith. Man of the match on grand final day is the only honour in rugby league that's eluded Smith and given his influence on proceedings it's difficult to see him being denied should Melbourne win.

 

 

Kane Linnett of the Cowboys
Kane Linnett of the Cowboys CRAIG GOLDING

NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS

Are you game enough to write them off? Everyone else did - not just once, not just twice, but three times in a row, and the Cowboys just kept doing it.

After one of the finals runs for the ages, North Queensland have a chance at their second title after one of the most dramatic, improbably and downright incredible playoff runs in rugby league history.

It's their second grand final in three years but, somehow, they've done it without Johnathan Thurston. The ascension of Michael Morgan has been something to behold and the continued rise of Jason Taumalolo shows no signs of slowing down.

Thirteen of the 17 Cowboys have grand final experience, 12 of which came in 2015, and you can bump that number by one should Matt Scott make a shock comeback.

The Cowboys are heavy outsiders, but they have been for the last month and they just keep coming up with the plays that matter when they're required. Only a fool would discount their chances of another monumental upset.

CASUALTY WARD

Pat Kaufusi (bicep, season), Ben Spina (bicep, season), Johnathan Thurston (shoulder, season)

 

Michael Morgan
Michael Morgan MICHAEL CHAMBERS

X-FACTOR

Michael Morgan has been the A through to Z factor in attack, but Jake Granville is the player who could really explode in the decider. The Cowboys rake has been solid in defence over the last few weeks but hasn't had the chance to showcase his deadly running game - although Melbourne are so adept at controlling the ruck, Granville only needs one chance to break a game right open.

NEEDS TO LIFT

All the Cowboys are operating at peak capacity and I will fight you if you say otherwise.

Seriously, North Queensland could not be getting more out of their squad than they are now.

CLIVE CHURCHILL MEDAL FAVOURITE

It's a struck match between Michael Morgan and Jason Taumalolo. The two are fast becoming North Queensland legends, if they weren't already. Morgan has grown into one of the best halves in the league and Taumalolo might be the best player in the world full stop. If North Queensland wins, one of these two is almost guaranteed the medal.

 

Jason Taumalolo of the Cowboys
Jason Taumalolo of the Cowboys DAVE HUNT

GRAND FINAL PREVIEW

North Queensland is dripping with destiny. Every move they make seems to be the right one; everybody is performing at peak capacity. Taumalolo is the Greek god of metres gained; Michael Morgan could stage a coup against the Queensland government and win the support of the people. They are tenacious, gutsy and will never surrender.

But Melbourne are better. They're better than every other team in the competition and have been all season. They're fuelled by the grand final defeat last season and have a gear that nobody else can touch.

We're expecting a torrid battle for 60 minutes, but for Melbourne to pull away in the final 20.

Tip - Melbourne 26, North Queensland 10.

 

Will Chambers of the Storm
Will Chambers of the Storm BRENDON RATNAYAKE
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