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NRL grand final: Slater OK, Cronk doubtful for decider

September 28, 2018
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In this Sept. 21, 2018, photo, Melbourne Storm rugby league player Billy Slater, right, is tackled by Matt Moylan of the Sharks during the National Rugby League preliminary final match in Melbourne, Australia. The Sydney Roosters and Melbourne Storm started grand final week wondering if two of their best players would be available for Sunday's National Rugby League championship match. (Hamish Blair/AAP Image via AP)

The Sydney Roosters and Melbourne Storm started grand final week uncertain if two of their best players would be available for Sunday’s National Rugby League championship match at Sydney’s Olympic stadium.

The defending champion Storm received good news when fullback Billy Slater, who will retire after the grand final, was cleared by the league judiciary of a shoulder charge, allowing him to play in the decider.

The Roosters were still up in the air late in the week on the availability of halfback Cooper Cronk, who sustained a rotator cuff injury in his left shoulder during a semifinal win last weekend.

Here are other things to know about the NRL championship match before an expected crowd of more than 80,000.

RELIEF FOR SLATER

It took more than three hours on Tuesday night, but Slater was finally cleared of a shoulder charge on Cronulla’s Sosaia Feki during the Storm’s 22-6 semifinal win over the Sharks. Slater, who scored two tries in that match, pleaded with the three-person panel to find him not guilty and allow him to end his career on the field.

After deliberating for nearly an hour, the three-person panel agreed and cleared him to play. Slater, 35, has played 30 test matches for Australia and 31 for Queensland in the annual State of Origin series against New South Wales. He has played all of his 300-plus NRL matches for Melbourne, where he began his career in 2003.

“It was quite an emotional start to my preparation and quite draining to be honest,” Slater said Thursday. “It wasn’t a great first four days of grand final week.”

CRONK DOUBTFUL

Cronk admitted that he was a “longshot” to play in Sunday’s match. Scans confirmed the 34-year-old Cronk had sustained “severe” damage to his rotator cuff in the Roosters’ 12-4 win over South Sydney.

Cronk said he would do everything he could to be fit enough to face his former teammates.

“It’s still there, when I woke up this morning it was still attached, which was a good thing.” Cronk joked. Cronk had his arm in a sling earlier in the week, but didn’t on Thursday when he gave an update on his condition.

“I got a bit of improvement today and it definitely needs some,” he said. “I think most people in this room know that I’m pretty diligent, pretty professional with what I do, but I’ve got a fair bit of work to do.”

BEST OF THE BEST

The grand final will mark the first time since 2012 that first place (Roosters) played the second-place team, the Storm.

But in one of the closest finishes in league history, the Roosters, Storm, third-place South Sydney and the fourth-place Sharks all finished with regular-season records of 16 wins and eight losses for 34 points each.

All that separated the top four teams was points differential — the Roosters scored 181 points more than they had scored against them. The Storm were next with 173, followed by Souths (145) and Cronulla (96). That form carried through to the semifinals, when all four top teams played and the top two won.

The Roosters or Storm have featured in 15 of the last 21 NRL grand finals, and Melbourne could become the first team in 25 years to repeat as league champions. The last team to win two titles in a row was the Brisbane Broncos in 1992 and 1993.

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