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3 hours ago | Tim Costello
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.
On Sunday evening either the Sydney Roosters or the Canberra Raiders will enter the annals of history in a grand final pitting the reigning premiers against the league's biggest improvers.
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.
2019 meetings: Round 21 2019 - Raiders 18 Roosters 22; Round 9 2019 - Roosters 30 Raiders 24
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.
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
1. James Tedesco 2. Daniel Tupou 3. Latrell Mitchell 4. Joseph Manu 5. Brett Morris 6. Luke Keary 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 9. Sam Verrills 10. Isaac Liu 11. Boyd Cordner 12. Mitchell Aubusson 13. Victor Radley 14. Angus Crichton 16. Nat Butcher 17. Siosiua Taukeiaho 20. Jake Friend
1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 2. Nick Cotric 3. Jarrod Croker 4. Joseph Leilua 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Jack Wighton 7. Aidan Sezer 8. Josh Papalii 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Iosia Soliola 11. John Bateman 12. Elliott Whitehead 13. Joseph Tapine 14. Bailey Simonsson 15. Emre Guler 16. Corey Horsburgh 17. Dunamis Lui
Referees: Ben Cummins, Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials: Nick Beashel, Chris Butler; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell, Ben Galea;