Ben Blaschke, NRL.com
Sea Eagles v Storm
The greatest rivalry of the past decade continues this Saturday as reigning premiers Melbourne take on Manly in the latest rendition of the ‘Battle of Brookvale’.
This rivalry began with consecutive grand final meetings in 2007, when the Storm prevailed, and 2008, when the Sea Eagles gained revenge, but more recently it is remembered for their spiteful clash at Brookvale in 2011 which saw Glenn Stewart and Adam Blair sent off, four Manly players suspended and both clubs fined $50,000.
While Blair is no longer at the Storm, there remains no love lost between these two and with plenty at stake this Saturday night they won’t be holding back.
Games between Manly and Melbourne always seem to create something special. Earlier this year they played out a nail-biting 10-all draw and with them sitting in third and fourth on the NRL ladder on the eve of the finals, you can rest assured they will be out to make a statement.
For the Sea Eagles, this is an important game if for no other reason than the fact that they are yet to beat a fellow top-four side in 2013. For all coach Geoff Toovey’s frustrations in the 22-10 loss to South Sydney a fortnight ago, they have now lost two games to the Rabbitohs and two to the Roosters this season to go with their Storm draw and could do with the confidence boost of scoring a win against another title contender.
That said, they have also won seven of their past eight games and are playing some fine football so Melbourne will know they’re in for a tough outing this week.
The Storm are one side that nobody wants to face off against in the finals given their fine pedigree in big games and hot form over the past month. Last week’s 64-4 demolition of Parramatta sent a strong message to the likes of Manly that they are back to their clinical best. Incredibly, it was the second time in four games they had passed 60 after downing Canberra 68-4 in Round 21.
The pain of losing five-eighth Gareth Widdop for the season has now eased, with Brett Finch having settled back into his old role, while the hot form of Cameron Smith and Billy Slater has typically returned at the business end of the year.
Rest assured they will be ever-present at Brookvale on Saturday night.
Brett Stewart makes his return this week after missing the win over Canberra with a hamstring strain, while Tom Symonds makes his long-awaited return on the bench as well in place of Anthony Watmough who will rest his troublesome knee. Brent Kite is again missing with George Rose taking his place in the starting side.
Storm coach Craig Bellamy has made one change, with Tohu Harris back into the squad on the bench and Tim Glasby the 18th man.
Melbourne need just three more points to make it 500 all-time against them. Manly are averaging the eighth-most points ever scored by the club this season, with 24.3 per game.
Watch Out Sea Eagles: Manly’s wingers should expect to see plenty of high balls launched in their direction given the Storm’s propensity to use the cross-field bomb. Melbourne have launched 84 cross-field bombs in 2013 – easily the most in the NRL – and they will be well aware that the Sea Eagles wingers don’t boast a great record with Jorge Taufua having defused seven of 13 cross-field bombs (at 54 per cent) and David Williams four of 10 (at 40 per cent).
Watch Out Storm: Sisa Waqa has been superb for Melbourne on their right wing this season but he can expect a torrid time against Jorge Taufua. Taufua has become a real weapon for the Sea Eagles in 2013, scoring a team-high 18 tries, averaging 137 metres per game, making 84 tackle-breaks (third in the NRL) and a phenomenal 30 line-breaks – five more than any other player in the competition.
Plays To Watch: On Manly’s left, the Kieran Foran short ball to the lead runner in Justin Horo with Brett Stewart wrapping around the back to lure the defence out; on the right, the Daly Cherry-Evans show-and-go.
Watch for Melbourne to use the double second-man play when they win a scrum feed on either side of the field in the attacking zone. They will almost always spread the ball right out across the backline using this play.
Key Match-Up: Daly Cherry-Evans v Cooper Cronk. Maroons teammates just a month or so ago, the future and the present of Queensland rugby league go head to head at Brookvale in what should prove a riveting contest. They boast contrasting styles – Cronk is more the organiser who roams the field to set up the play while Cherry-Evans boasts a great running game and controls Manly’s right edge. Their battle will be intriguing.
Where It Will Be Won: These sides boast two of the best spines in the competition and the result is likely to come down to which plays the more composed football with the ball in hand. The opportunities will be there for both – it’s up to the big names to take their chances.
The History: Played 24; Storm 13, Sea Eagles 10, drawn 1. Melbourne boast a poor record at Brookvale with a lowly 33 per cent win rate.
Match Officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Adam Devcich; Sideline Officials – Dan Eastwood & Luke Potter; Video Referee – Bernard Sutton & Luke Patten.
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Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 7.30pm.
The Way We See It: This should be a great game with two sides that love to beat one another going head to head in a clash that will have a significant bearing on how they head into the finals. That both have warmed up for their September tilt by hitting top form is no surprise, which makes it particularly difficult to pick a winner here.
However, given Melbourne’s ruthlessness over the past month they will take plenty of stopping. Storm by four points.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.