Storm v Knights
The Storm appear to be over the hump, which is bad news for a Knights side that has got plenty of problems. After winning their first seven games, the Storm lost two in a row – 24-20 to the Raiders and 12-10 to the Panthers – but have since recovered to draw 10-10 in a high-quality game against the Sea Eagles and beat the Roosters (26-18) and Sharks (38-6). The Storm actually look to be playing better now than they did during their seven-game winning run, during which they won a couple of games by narrow margins after looking likely to lose.
The Storm were merciless against the Sharks at AAMI Park on Monday night, blowing them away in the first half. The rest was just conversation, and the general opinion was that the Storm were back as the competition’s benchmark.
The Knights continue to go up and down under master coach Wayne Bennett. They were all over the place last season and they are all over the place again this season, failing to establish consistency. The Knights won three of their first four and five of their first seven, but just when it looked like you could say they were finally on the rise in Bennett’s second year in charge they dropped their bundle to lose five of their past six.
The Knights led 8-0 in the second half against the Dragons at home last Saturday, but were run over late in the game and lost 14-8. They have missed the calming influence of injured veterans Kurt Gidley and Danny Buderus during their disappointing run of form, but they are going to have to do without them again here.
The Storm have named an unchanged team.
The Knights have also named an unchanged 17, but have added Neville Costigan to what is a five-man bench.
Watch Out Storm: Presumably, it would have been hard truths time at Knights training this week – and surely not for the first time this season. Pride is at stake, and seven-time premiership-winning coach Bennett will be digging deep to try to find something to spark his side, which makes them potentially dangerous.
Watch Out Knights: The Storm’s State of Origin quartet – Billy Slater, Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Ryan Hoffman – said goodbye before heading off for Game One of the representative series by helping to orchestrate a terrific road win over the in-form Roosters. Now they’ll be keen to leave on the same terms for Origin II. It’s what they do.
Key Match-Up: Knights fullback Darius Boyd, who goes to the wing for Queensland because Storm fullback Billy Slater commands the No.1 jumper there, ran just nine times for 85 metres against the Dragons. That was very un-Boyd-like, and a repeat would spell disaster for the Knights against the Storm in Melbourne. Slater has run for over 200 metres in two of his past three club games.
Where It Will be Won: The Knights are going to have to want it bad just to put themselves in the game with a chance, because the Storm are sharp again. The Storm will start quickly, and if the Knights aren’t there in the head, then they will be in for a pasting. You can’t go to Melbourne and beat the Storm unless you’ve got a very good plan and you stick to it – and even then you’ll be out of luck most times.
The History: The Storm have won 11 of their past 13 clashes with the Knights, including the past five in a row. The Knights have lost nine straight games against the Storm in Melbourne.
Match Officials: Referees – Gerard Sutton & Henry Perenara; Sideline Officials – Michael Wise & Paul Holland; Video Referees – Steve Chiddy & Matt Rodwell.
NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
Televised: Channel 9 – delayed, 4pm; Fox Sports – delayed, 6pm.
The Way We See It: Good luck to the Knights. They’re not playing nearly well enough to encourage you to tip them in a game like this. The Storm have ironed out a few kinks and are playing like a well-oiled machine again. Storm by 12 points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats