Bulldogs v Storm
NIB Stadium, Perth
Saturday 7:30pm (AEDT)
When a game is shifted to the other side of the country – Perth's nib Stadium to be exact – it strips away any advantage any team may have. Over 3000km from Melbourne and almost 4000km from Canterbury, Perth will play host to their second NRL game in as many years. The inability to draw upon any prior form there and the unknown reaction of the crowd are variables that are sure to be answered once the game gets under way – in other words the Bulldogs nor the Storm can prepare for such things in the lead up to kick-off.
The Bulldogs have commenced 2014 with one win and two losses yet remain one of the best offensive and defensive teams in the completion – tellingly the Bulldogs have conceded the fewest points this year and have missed the second fewest tackles but it hasn't been enough. Notwithstanding their thrashing of the Sharks, the Bulldogs haven't been able to punch out a full-80 performance in their two close defeats to the Broncos and Penrith.
Meanwhile the Storm, who remain undefeated in 2014, have had to work hard in all three of their games. This encounter will be no different. While the lads from Melbourne have tallied the fewest missed tackles, they are in the middle of the table in terms of points conceded and have been lucky to snatch victories in their first two games.
In team changes, Chase Stanley returns for the Bulldogs on the wing after missing last weekend, with Drury Low dropping back to 19th man. Melbourne remains unchanged despite Jordan McLean being referred straight to the judiciary.
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Watch Out Bulldogs: Melbourne have proven themselves to be relentless so far this season. When giving the tiniest sniff the Storm have shown they are more than willing to pounce. Against the Knights last Monday night, the Storm demonstrated that they will take advantage of their opposition's ill-discipline – the Storm scoring four of their five tries off the back of Newcastle's penalties. Many of these contributions can be credited to halfback Cooper Cronk; when the Queensland and Australian representative is on song, usually his side is too. Against Newcastle his two try assists in a Man of the Match performance was key to his side's victory.
Watch Out Storm: Melbourne have to be wary of a Bulldogs onslaught. Off the back of Reynolds and Hodkinson the Bulldogs have proven that they can score points and will do anything in their power to do so. Fourth in the NRL for points scored, the Bulldogs have noticeably favoured their left side with centre Josh Morris and winger Corey Thompson both securing two tries so far this season.
Another concern for Melbourne is their left edge defence. With rookie winger Young Tounmaipea and centre Mahe Fonua at the helm, Melbourne has looked defensively weak in patches on their left side following their match-up with the Knights Akuila Uate and Joey Leulia. While Tounmaipea is three games into his career and Fonua has been more accustomed to playing on the wing in the NRL – there is definitely room to improve but must be something the Melbourne side should be on the lookout to cover.
Plays to Watch: Josh Reynolds – doubling up on assists – Reynolds recorded two try-assists and two line-break assists in his sides narrow loss to Penrith last weekend; Sisa Waqa – offloading is a fine art and the Fijian winger has done well to record six so far in 2014 (equal 4th in the NRL); David Klemmer – living up to his potential – the former NYC Player of the Year notched up 9 runs for 95 metres last weekend from 14 minutes of play from the bench; Jesse Bromwich continues to grow towards being one of the competition's premier props – the 24 year-old Kiwi managing 143 metres and 29 tackles last Monday night.
Where It Will Be Won: This game hangs on whether the Bulldogs can keep their heads in it for the 80 minutes. Losing in the last two minutes to the Panthers last weekend will only spur on the Bulldogs to try to make amends. Melbourne still have a long way to go before they reach the dizzy heights of their premiership win over the Bulldogs in the 2012 Grand Final. Averaging just a tick under 20 points conceded per game this year, the Storm will need to fix this up if they are to extend their undefeated streak.
The History: Played 32; Bulldogs 16, Storm 16. While the 2012 Grand Final participants are on par with one another in their overall head-to-head, the Bulldogs – since 2006 – have only won four times against the Storm. One of these victories occurred the last time they played in Round 18 last year – without their State of Origin representatives Melbourne were thrashed 39-0.
What Are The Odds: Punters have identified the Bulldogs as a value bet this round, with more money coming for them at Sportsbet.com.au than the Storm. Despite this, the Storm have come in from $1.61 to $1.42, while the Bulldogs are out from $2.32 to $2.70.
Match Officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Adam Gee; Touch Judges – Nick Beashel & Matt Noyen; Video Referees – Luke Phillips & Andrew Dunemann.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 7:30pm (AEDT).
The Way We See It: In neutral territory and with the undefeated Melbourne showing that they have a long way to go in becoming world-beaters – we're calling an upset. In the carousel that is the NRL where upsets have been aplenty so far in 2014 don't be surprised to see the boys from Belmore go two from four. Bulldogs by two points.
• Statistics: Champion Data.
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