Dan Walsh, Staff Writer, NRL.com
Roosters v Storm
Phil Collins could feel it, and any rugby league fan worth their salt should too; there's gonna be a dirty great waft of finals footy in the air come Saturday night.
Prior to last weekend the Roosters and Storm weren't exactly the NRL's sleeping giants of 2014 – you don't work your way into top four contention by being asleep at the wheel – but they both made a hell of a racket with decisive wins on the road in Round 24. Whichever outfit comes out on top in this clash, featuring no less than 20 past or present Origin, Australian and Kiwi reps, will be just about shouting their premiership credentials from the roof of Allianz.
After his side's 46-12, eight-tries-to-two pole-axing of the Warriors, head Chook Trent Robinson revealed he's been hassled every week for the last 6 months as to why the Roosters weren't playing good footy, but it's safe to say the doubters took a week off after that brutal display.
For just about the first time this year their strongest 17 made it off the bus and onto the park and rounded out a month where they've outpointed their rivals 150-56. Key men Sonny Bill Williams and Jake Friend hardly missed a beat slotting back in after their time out with injury, and with the respective slip-ups of Manly and Souths, the Tri-Colours are now eyeing off an unlikely minor premiership if they can come up trumps in their last two games of the year.
Melbourne meanwhile rolled up at the foot of the mountains and slogged it out with the Panthers for the type of 24-10 win that may have contained some uncharacteristic first-half errors, but was also sealed by a very familiar second half blitz as they ramped up the pressure on the Chocolate Soldiers and took their own record to a handy five wins from their last six starts.
Jesse Bromwich's emergence as one of the game's genuine, bona fide, electrified elite big men has given Craig Bellamy's side a new dimension up front, with his 43 offloads (third in the NRL) and 3040 running metres (fifth best) laying one heck of a platform for usual suspects Slater, Cronk and Smith to do their thing.
They got by rather handsomely without their purple powerhouse on Monday night after Bromwich missed his first game in three years due to he and his partner earlier that day welcoming a second baby boy into the world. But on a five-day turnaround his addition to the starting pack will be crucial if the Storm are to gain the upper hand over a Roosters team that has run for an average 460 metres more than their opponents over the last three weeks. Other than Bromwich, Craig Bellamy has named the same 17 for what will be Cooper Cronk's 250th game, while Trent Robinson has gone with the same outfit that so thoroughly trounced the Warriors last week.
Watch Out Roosters: Fijian flyers are all the rage in the NRL at the moment, and as usual Craig Bellamy is one step ahead of the pack, with Marika Koroibete and Sisa Waqa providing an all-Fijian onslaught on the Melbourne edges.
They may have their issues in defence, but there's no doubting their potency with the ball in hand, with the duo bagging a combined 13 tries, 12 line breaks and 36 tackle breaks and a couple of breathtaking intercepts in the six games they have played together since Koroibete's mid-season defection from the Tigers.
Watch Out Storm: Melbourne have already been burnt once this year by James Maloney when he engineered three tries in the Roosters’ 20-point win the last time these two sides danced the dance, and they'll be mighty wary of the form he and right-hand man Mitch Pearce have been putting in the shop window in recent weeks. Over the past month the pair have laid on nine try-assists between them as the Chooks have run up an average of 37 points per game. After going down in last year's Origin decider, the Roosters duo turned in a run of form that saw their side lift the Provan-Summons Trophy, and having been dumped for NSW's historic series victory this year, they're again looking like bouncing back from disappointment at the highest level in the most emphatic fashion possible.
Plays To Watch: Michael Jennings's lethal footwork near the line after his reprisal of that stunning Origin try a few years back against the Warriors last weekend; Melbourne's right-side second man sweep-play from Cronk, Slater and Proctor to get a work out as per usual; the Roosters kicking exponents to utilise the grubber out wide to keep Melbourne's edge defence in two minds; Bromwich to be in absolutely everything on his return – in his last start against Cronulla he racked up 178 metres in the first half alone.
Where It Will Be Won: Out wide. With the Chooks' all-star three quarters running red hot in recent weeks, not to mention SBW and his Aussie counterpart Boyd Cordner able to hit a hole blindfolded, the up-and-in defence that has served Melbourne so well over the years cannot afford to bring anything but its A game come Saturday night.
Koroibete in particular was caught in no-man's land a couple of times against the Panthers, and you can bet your grandmother's bottom dollar Pearce and Maloney will direct traffic his way fast and often.
The History: Played 26; Roosters: 12, Storm: 14. Like most sides the Roosters haven't had a great run against the Storm in recent years, with just three wins from nine clashes since 2008. When they have got up though it's been by plenty – the Tri-colours' average winning margin has been 28 points in those three victories.
What Are The Odds:
Sportsbet reports this match as the best betting game of the round, and it seems punters are divided 50/50 in who to back, with the Roosters at $1.65, and the Storm ($2.25). Either side to win 1-12 looks to be the way to go in this one. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Gavin Morris; Touch Judges – Steve Carrall & Paul Holland; Video Refs – Steve Chiddy & Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live, 7.30pm.
How We See It: Both these teams are in fine form and possess fine 17s to boot, with mouth-watering personal battles cropping up left, right and centre. Melbourne's Big Three as always have the ability to turn a game on its head, but in SBW, the halves and that five-star backline, the Roosters look to be packing just a bit more firepower than the visitors. Chooks by four in what should be corker.