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In the first of a two-part series, Rick Edgerton looks at who might be in line to win the 2017 Clive Churchill Medal as best on ground during the 2017 NRL Grand Final.
Today, it's the Melbourne Storm.
BILLY SLATER - After a long injury layoff, this champion custodian is set to complete a remarkable return season to the game when he laces his boots for what will be his sixth Grand Final. Holds the record for most tries in Finals matches including 3 in 2 Finals games this year and was awarded this medal in the 2009 decider.
CHANCES - Up there with the best support players of all time which means he's always in the contest. Big match experience a major plus and represents the best value out of Melbourne's ‘Big 3'.
SULIASI VUNIVALU - The NRL's leading try scorer this season is one of many Storm players backing up from last year's Grand Final loss. Has freakish finishing ability that could light up this year's contest if given half a chance. Can score from close range, through the air or from 100 metres back.
CHANCES - No winger has ever won the gong which makes him an outside chance at best. Then again, this beast is no normal winger. Would need a hat-trick to be in the mix.
WILL CHAMBERS - Queensland and Australian centre who's played in 3 Grand Finals previously. With well renowned defensive centre Kane Linnett defending on the opposite side of the park, expect Melbourne to send plenty of attack to their right side where Chambers will be parked, so should at least get plenty of ball in hand. Scored the initial go ahead try in last year's decider and proved one of the real danger men in their second half fightback.
CHANCES - No centre has ever won the award either, making any outside back unlikely. Comes into his own in big games when defenders tire in the second half. Maybe worth a spec at the massive price.
CURTIS SCOTT - Set for the biggest night of his life playing in his first Grand Final after just 13 top grade games. The occasion has far from overawed him so far though. Has set up a try in both finals appearances. Tough young kid that doesn't shy away from a contest.
CHANCES - Would need plenty of attacking stats to his name and will be marked up on by the underrated Linnett. Unlikely.
JOSH ADDO-CARR - Finds himself in a decider after making the move south from the Wests Tigers where he played only 9 NRL games. Has enjoyed a breakout year at the Storm and his inaugural Finals series has been impressive with 2 tries, 2 line-breaks and a try-assist to his name.
CHANCES - Capable of lighting it up from anywhere on the field, but would need to do so more than once to come into contention. Unlikely.
CAMERON MUNSTER - Set for his second Grand Final in as many years and no one will be trying harder to make amends then this competitive young terrier. Busts tackles at will and capable of creating something out of nothing.
CHANCES - Hasn't featured in attacking stats this Finals series, but that's not really his go anyway. With plenty of attention on the Storm's ‘Big 3', that could leave things open for Munster to really sneak under the Cowboys guard. Announced himself as a big match player in an impressive Origin debut this year. Strong chance.
COOPER CRONK - After 6 previous Grand Final appearances for his beloved Storm, this champion half is set to exit the club exactly the way he deserves. His future moving forward remains unknown, but there's every likelihood this will be his last game of club footy. The Sharks belted him out of the contest in last year's decider and that won't be lost on him in the lead-up to this one.
CHANCES - Guided his team to victory in the 2012 decider on route to winning this Medal. Still holds all the aces with his classy all-round game. Halfbacks have won the medal a record 10 times and Cronk is every chance of making that 11. If you're a high stakes punter, $5 is great value.
JESSE BROMWICH - Already has 2 Grand Finals under his belt and scored the try early in the second half of last year's decider that turned the momentum of the contest. Hasn't produced his biggest numbers of the year, but that's largely due to the emergence of Melbourne's fringe forwards earning more game time.
CHANCES - Only playing 50-55 minutes these days which limits his workload, but does possess a unique skillset for a front-rower. Capable of crossing from close range or setting one up with an offload. Will be out for a big one after letting his teammates down off the field earlier in the year. A blowout chance.
CAMERON SMITH - Queensland and Australian Captain that has broken just about every record known to mankind this season, culminating with his second Dally M medal on Wednesday night. Will lace up his boots for his sixth visit to the big dance (all as Captain) and no one will be more set on sending his great mate Cronk out a winner than his skipper. Will be controlling the tempo of the contest from the outset.
CHANCES - For all the awards, records and accolades Smith has achieved in his career, the Clive Churchill Medal hasn't been one of them and hookers for whatever reason have only picked up the award twice. After the year he's had though, it would take a brave man betting against him claiming the missing link to his trophy cabinet. You're probably only interested if you're a big punter in which case you can't get enough on him. Otherwise you can always look to juice up the odds by taking him in a double or multi. Deserving favourite.
JORDAN McLEAN - Another who will be looking to avenge last year's Grand Final loss and is every chance of setting up the contest for his team with a devastating opening stint. Is only plying his trade for around 35-40 minutes per game, but tears into his work when he's out there.
ODDS - $81
CHANCES - His minutes probably mean he's no hope, but there has been some mention this week that one of Melbourne's bookends could be called upon earlier than usual for their second stint to try and match Jason Taumololo. Only worth a spec if you think his minutes could increase dramatically.
FELISE KAUFUSI - Set for his first appearance on Grand Final day after being overlooked for selection in last year's decider. After Kevin Proctor departed at the end of last season one of the big question marks was who would replace him as one of Cronk's go to men on the Storm's right edge. Enter Kaufusi who nailed down the position in the early rounds. Older brother Antonio played in 2 losing Grand Finals for the club giving the younger sibling even further drive on Sunday night.
CHANCES - Doesn't get through a mountain of work, but Grand Finals can make you work more than normal and he does play the 80 minutes. Runs great lines off Cronk in attack and is every chance of bagging a try or two hitting holes where Te Maire Martin and Justin O'Neill will be defending. Way over the odds making him the best value bet.
TOHU HARRIS - It's been somewhat lost in the limelight of Cronk's farewell game for the Storm, but Harris is another looking to leave the club with a premiership ring before jetting off to join the Warriors next season. Was a little slow getting going upon a long injury layoff this season, but has really hit his straps in recent weeks.
CHANCES - Like his fellow second-rower, punches out the 80 minutes and is always a chance if he can cross the stripe. Doesn't get the ball he once did though with Munster playing inside him who often takes the line on himself which probably works against him here.
DALE FINUCANE - Can find a Grand Final. This will be his 4th decider out of six seasons playing in the top grade. Unfortunately for Finucane, he's never actually lifted the trophy after losing twice with the Bulldogs and again last year with the Storm. This will no doubt be fuelling him in his quest to halt his opposite number Taumololo. Whilst no one has called the Cowboys lock out this week, I suspect Finucane will be making it a personal challenge. One of the few players in the game to actually bend his back in making his tackles which is exactly what's needed to limit the other JT's damage.
CHANCES - Sizeably better than the odds suggest. Minutes are again the big obstacle, but if he can make an impact early it may just lead to Craig Bellamy leaving him out there longer. Worth a dollar or two at least.