Strikingly similar seasons, an apparent mirror image, have made Monday night’s clash between the Storm and Dragons a thoroughly intriguing one.
Three wins to start the year for both sides have been followed by two straight weeks of disappointment.
A last-minute penalty against the Storm sealed a two-point defeat to the Titans. Yet the home side was second best for much of the 80 minutes and if not for the Gold Coast’s host of errors and poor completion rate, one could argue the margin was somewhat flattering. The Dragons were equally disappointing, with no answer for South Sydney’s firepower in their 26-6 loss to the Rabbitohs.
Despite the loss, Steve Price has opted for more of a reshuffle than a raft of changes to the team. Jack De Belin is the only forced change due to suspension, with Bronson Harrison his replacement on the bench. Michael Witt steps into the halfback jersey while Adam Quinlan is relegated to the 18th man. Meanwhile, the Storm has made one change with forward Tim Glasby named on the bench for his return in place of the suspended Dayne Weston.
Given the game is not until Monday night, do not be surprised if each coach springs late changes.
Ill discipline and defensive frailties were the common denominator for Melbourne and St George Illawarra last week and has left them with plenty of time to lick their wounds and overturn recent form.
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In 2013 the Storm had the best defence in the competition, conceding the fewest points in the NRL (411). However, five games into this season Melbourne sits at the opposite end of the spectrum, with the third highest points against tally in the competition. Those are very un-Storm like numbers that need to be addressed, especially given the Dragons’ improved point-scoring this season. The Dragons rank equal third for the most points scored this season, an area they measured in at second-last in 2013.
The Storm will also want to take better care of the ball, as they have lost the possession count in the past two weeks and it appears to have taken a toll on them defensively. The Bulldogs and Titans in the past fortnight have forced Melbourne to tackle, tackle and tackle again. In the past fortnight the Storm have made 130 more tackles than their opponents. In a team with pivotal playmakers in Slater, Cronk and Smith, the Storm has to get their hands on the football again and relieve the pressure at the defensive end.Watch Out Dragons:
Victorian travel woes – Melbourne is a tough place to come and win for any NRL side but for the Dragons it has been an unreachable feat. Way back in 1999 was the last time the Dragons took two points back home with them. That is 11 straight defeats in Melbourne town for the Red V. Can Price’s side finally get the monkey off its back?
In recent meetings between these two teams, the left boot of star hooker Cameron Smith has proven a significant thorn in the Dragons side. Smith has not missed a kick for goal in the past three meetings - a perfect 10 out of 10, literally. The visitors looked like they would get a reprieve this time around with Smith’s poor start to the year, kicking truly just nine times from 17 attempts. Yet the Storm captain re-discovered his kicking form last week against the Titans (5 from 5) and in what may be a tight, low scoring affair, Smith’s kicking could be the difference.
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The Storm have been lethal on the flanks this season. Sisa Waqa has six tries to his name for the Storm and has been a real threat, while 21-year-old rookie Young Tonumaipea has been a revelation and notched 178 metres in the loss to the Titans. Cooper Cronk’s superb kick for Waqa’ early try against the Gold Coast was a ploy the Storm will no doubt try again.
Brett Morris remains locked with his father Steve on 102 tries for St George Illawarra, with every chance of overtaking his old man on Monday night – quite possibly in spectacular fashion. Josh Dugan was solid in his return from a knee injury against Souths and combined for a play with five-eighth Gareth Widdop that smacked of Cronk and Slater. The fullback latched on to a clever chip kick back on the inside from Widdop, only to be denied a try by the video ref, yet will surely score plenty from the move this season.Where It Will be Won:
Defence – on just one occasion has either team managed to score more than 18 points against the other since Round 10, 2008 (the Storm winning 26-18 in Round 21, 2012). All their other recent meetings have been low-scoring, defensive affairs. This is perhaps ironic given the Storm have conceded 68 points and the Dragons 62 in the past fortnight. Whichever team can rediscover its defensive form will be in the box seat come Monday night.The History:
Played 27; Storm 19, Dragons 7, Draw 1. Despite the Storm’s dominance, especially in Melbourne (having won the past 11), the past five matches indicate a closer contest with a 3-2 ledger in favour of the home side.What Are The Odds:
Interestingly, money is flowing two to one for the Dragons in early betting with Sportsbet.com.au but they remain the $3.50 outsider. The Storm are $1.29. Match Officials:
Referees – Matt Cecchin & Grant Atkins; Touch Judges – Steve Carrall & Adam Reid; Video Referees – Steve Clark & Steve Folkes.Televised:
Fox Sports – LIVE 7.00pm (AEST)The Way We See It:
It has been almost two years since the Storm lost two straight home games. Add to this the Dragons’ 15 year drought in Melbourne and we expect the Storm to record a narrow win and leave St George Illawarra back at the drawing board. Storm by four points.