Grand Final: 2019 NRL Grand Final: Roosters v Raiders preview
History to be made as reigning premiers take on competition dark horses
For more than two decades no team has gone back-to-back in a united competition.
For more than two decades a premiership has eluded the nation's capital.
Qualifying for their eighth grand final in the NRL era, the Sydney Roosters will be eyeing off a piece of history as they strive to become the first team since Brisbane (1992-93) to record back-to-back premierships in a united competition.
Repelling Melbourne 14-6 in a dogged preliminary final at the SCG last Saturday, the Roosters will have no shortage of big match experience with 15 members of the team that triumphed in last year's decider named in a 21-man squad to take part on Sunday evening.
Winning both matches against the Raiders this season by narrow margins, coach Trent Robinson will be wary of the threat posed by his opponents as he wrestles with a selection decision with the potential to make-or-break the grand final for the Tricolours.
Naming Jake Friend on an extended bench to play his first match after ten weeks on the sidelines, rookie hooker Sam Verrills has been a standout in the captain and two-time premiership winner's absence, leaving Robinson with a dilemma over including a veteran lacking match fitness or placing his interchange in jeopardy by carrying two specialist hookers at the expense of a forward.
Gaining a massive inclusion with Kiwi enforcer Jared Waerea-Hargreaves returning from suspension at the expense of Lindsay Collins, the match will hold additional significance for Angus Crichton and Nat Butcher as they make their first appearances in a premiership decider.
Set to make an NRL record ninth appearance on grand final day, halfback Cooper Cronk will play his final match on Sunday evening, completing a legendary career as the second-most capped player in premiership history (372).
Reaching their first grand final in 25 years, the Canberra Raiders will be determined to reward their loyal fans by claiming a fourth premiership title.
Earning their place in the decider after accounting for South Sydney 16-10 in front of a sell-out GIO Stadium crowd last Friday, the Raiders will be out to overcome a significant dearth of grand final experience in comparison to their highly fancied opponents.
With Joseph Leilua being the only player to feature on NRL grand final day previously - as an 18-year-old with the Roosters back in 2010 - coach Ricky Stuart will be banking upon Iosia Soliola and John Bateman drawing on their Super League premiership successes to help the side handle the pressure of the occasion.
Holding a positive record at ANZ Stadium with 15 wins from 24 appearances, including five from six during Stuart's coaching tenure, the Raiders can expect strong crowd support on Sunday evening with NRL immortal Mal Meninga set to lead an unprecedented Viking Clap prior to kick-off.
Sticking solid with the same squad that downed Melbourne and South Sydney during the finals series, the match will take on added significance for Iosia Soliola and Joseph Tapine as they celebrate their 200th and 100th appearances in the NRL respectively.
Last Finals Meeting: Finals Week 1 2004 - Roosters 38 Raiders 12
Who to watch: In a league of superstar fullbacks, James Tedesco can lay claim as the number one, number one. Hoping to finish Sunday evening with consecutive premiership rings in his second year with the club, the 26-year-old speedster looms as a leading contender to add the Clive Churchill Medal to an impressive list of personal achievements this season. Enjoying a stellar campaign with a personal best in the try-scoring stakes (17), averaging over 200 metres per game and leading the league in tackle breaks (161) and line breaks (23), look for Tedesco to step up with a performance befitting his status as one of the superstars of rugby league.
Experiencing a career-defining season by shifting into the halves, Jack Wighton will be eager to cap off 2019 with a grand final ring. Facing an uncertain future in the NRL after being handed a ten-match ban for pleading guilty to assault last season, the 25-year-old has reformed his life to great effect at club level and in the representative arena. Scoring a pivotal try with tremendous instinct early in the second half last week, look for Wighton to have a similar impact on Sunday evening as he strives to emulate the heroics of club great and fellow centre-turned-playmaker, Laurie Daley, by leading the Raiders to grand final glory.
- Of the nine meetings played against the Raiders during Trent Robinson's tenure as coach, the Roosters hold a slender advantage with five wins.
- Sunday evening will be the first time the two sides have clashed at ANZ Stadium.
- This is the first time in 15 years the two sides have met in finals football - the Roosters hold a 75 per cent success rate from four previous meetings.
- Set to make his 372nd - and final - appearance in first grade following an illustrious career spanning 16 seasons, Cooper Cronk will be the oldest player to feature in the grand final.
- Set to make just his 14th NRL appearance on Sunday evening, rookie Sam Verrills will be the youngest player to take the field should Jake Friend fail to make the final 17.
- Sunday will be the final opportunity for Zane Tetevano, Emre Guler and Corey Horsburgh to avoid the nudie run having failed to score a try up to this point.
- The Roosters squad features a total of 31 NRL grand final appearances, including 15 members from the side that defeated Melbourne last year. In contrast, Joseph Leilua is the only member of the Raiders squad to have played in an NRL grand final previously.
The favourite: Holding a strong case as the definitive team of the decade with two premierships, three grand finals and four minor premierships, the Sydney Roosters will start the match as emphatic favourites.
My tip: Improving throughout the season to earn a wealth of self-belief and the respect of opponents across the league, Sunday evening will be the culmination of a remarkable turnaround for the Canberra Raiders as the class of 2019 achieves rugby league history.
Margin: Raiders by 8
Clive Churchill Medal: Josh Papalii
First Tryscorer: Elliott Whitehead