William Botoulas, Melbourne Correspondent, NRL.com
Storm v Broncos
It is as though the finals have started a week early for these two teams.
The Broncos are currently holding onto that final spot in the eight with a favourable points differential of just seven over the Warriors. Brisbane can jump the Storm on the ladder and guarantee themselves a finals berth with a win in Melbourne.
The equation for the Storm is likely to cause more of a head-spin. Melbourne must win and then for Penrith to slip-up in order to snatch a top-four spot. However should they lose and the Bulldogs, Cowboys and Warriors win it will be season over for the men in purple. Keeping up with it all?
The Storm came within 16 minutes of cementing a finals spot and jumping into the top four last week, before the Roosters put on three tries in the final stanza to snatch the points.
The Broncos are looking for their third win in a row but will need to do it in Melbourne, a place they have lost three straight times by an average margin of 25.3 points.
They have been dealt an early blow to their finals hopes with Sam Thaiday to miss Friday night's game after being found guilty of a grade one dangerous contact charge.
Justin O’Neill has been included as 19th man for Melbourne, possibly paving the way for him to make a surprise return to the side after fracturing his ankle in Round 8.
Watch Out Storm: Tough run home – in terms of scheduling, it has not been an ideal finish to the home-and-away season for Melbourne. Five of their past six games have been on the road, including last week’s five-day break in between back-to-back road trips. They gave up three tries in the final 16 minutes against the Roosters as they appeared to run out of legs. With only a six-day break heading into Friday night, the Broncos will fancy their chance of running away with the result should they be within touching distance at halftime.
Finals not so fast – The 2014 home-and-away season has been one of the most competitive in recent memory. With the Bulldogs heavy favourites to beat the Titans, Warriors every chance to beat a shaky Penrith and the Cowboys at home to the Sea Eagles, there can be no slipping up for the Storm.
Should all those teams win, it will be just the second time the Victorian side will be watching the finals series from their couches since Craig Bellamy took charge.
Watch Out Broncos: Top eight record – Brisbane opened the season with impressive wins over the Bulldogs and Cowboys. However since then they have won just two of their last nine games against teams who currently sit inside the top eight.
Low score rarity – The only teams the Broncos have managed to restrict to single digit scores this season are Newcastle (twice), Gold Coast and Canberra, three of the NRL’s five worst attacking sides. Not helping their case is the fact Storm have been kept to single digits just once this season but have restricted their opposition to that fate in four of their past eight games.
Plays To Watch: Goodbye Sisa and Hoffy – Sisa Waqa and Ryan Hoffman could very well be playing their last game for Melbourne at AAMI Park. A tribute is set be played on the big screen for both players after the game. Waqa redemption – Waqa did not have a fun time of it against the Roosters last week. He dropped the ball that allowed Mitchell Pearce to put the Roosters in front and was also kept off the try sheet for the second straight game, expect a response from the Flying Fijian. Gillett grit – despite being wrongly sin-binned last week, Matt Gillett responded with two crucial tries to lift the Broncos over the line. He will need to put up more heroics to silence the purple-coated crowd on Friday night.
Where It Will be Won: Last time these two teams met in Round 20 the football spent 60 minutes of the game in the Broncos half. It led to the Storm enjoying a 55-45 per cent possession advantage on their way to a comfortable 30-8 win. Last week the Broncos allowed 50 minutes of the play to unfold in their own half but against a team with such a potent attack as the Storm they cannot afford to provide such a luxury. Whichever team can take care of the football and keep it locked in their opposition’s half will be in the box seat.
History: Played 35; Storm 23, Broncos 11, drawn 1. Melbourne have dominated the six-time premiers for over a decade now. In the 23 meetings between these two teams since 2004, Brisbane have come out on top on just four occasions.
What Are The Odds:
Slightly more support for the Broncos to end a poor run in Melbourne. Brisbane have come in from their opening quote of $3.30, and 1-12 seems to be the popular choice with Sportsbet punters. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee – Jared Maxwell; Assistant Referee – Grant Atkins; Touch Judges – Jason Walsh, Brett Suttor; Video Referees – Steve Clark, Luke Phillips.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live, 7.45pm (AEDT).
The Way We See It: The Storm have lost their final game of a home-and-away season just once since 2005. Given how close they were to knocking over the Roosters and their solid form for over a month, Friday night will sadly see the curtain fall on Anthony Griffin’s time at the Broncos. Storm by eight points.