William Botoulas, Melbourne Correspondent
Storm v Raiders
Storm beware - the Raiders will arrive at AAMI Park looking to make it four straight wins in Melbourne.
Ricky Stuart’s men managed to break a four-game losing streak last weekend against the Titans, in a performance that included six different try scorers.
The Storm on the other hand suffered back-to-back defeats for the fourth time this season, going down to Canterbury 4-6 at home.
It was the eighth Melbourne game decided by four points or less in 2014 and leaves the Victorian side clinging to eighth position on the NRL ladder.
The last meeting between these two teams in Round 7 had Craig Bellamy seeing red after Sisa Waqa had a 70th-minute try disallowed before some Paul Vaughn heroics with less than two minutes left saw the Raiders record a thrilling 24-22 win.
The Storm’s representative stars have been given much of the week off to freshen up after another grueling Origin period but all are expected to take their place in the side for Saturday.
Despite the weekend’s loss to the Bulldogs, Melbourne has named an unchanged side, meaning Sisa Waqa, Young Tonumaipea and Ben Hampton again fail to win back their starting places.
Canberra will be without Brenko Lee for up to a month after he suffered a grade one hamstring tear last week, while former Storm player Brett White makes his return. Paul Vaughn drops back to the bench as Joel Edwards gets the nod in the back row.
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Watch Out Storm: Raiders record – it took six years and a total of 14 games for Craig Bellamy to lose to his former club as a coach. However his more recent record against the team for which he played 148 games is significantly less imposing. Canberra has won three of its last four against Melbourne, as well as its last three games at AAMI Park. Melbourne has only lost a total of 14 games at the venue – meaning almost a quarter of those defeats have been at the hands of the Green Machine.
Red-hot Croker – Jarrod Croker has hit a purple patch in recent weeks, with a try in three straight games whilst converting 12 of 14 attempts at goal. Croker also led the way last week with 227 metres against the Titans. He is the Raiders' leading try scorer for the season with 13 in 16 games and his two-point conversion one minute from time proved the difference when these two teams last met in Round 7.
Watch Out Raiders: Defensive nightmares – no NRL team has conceded more points this season than the Raiders. Canberra has given up an average of 26 points per game in 2014. It is a statistic that the Raiders have unfortunately found themselves ranked in the top three for in two of the past three seasons.
Three straight a no-no – since Craig Bellamy took over the Melbourne Storm in 2003, only twice has the Victorian side endured a losing streak of three games or more. Coming off the back of defeats to the Dragons and Bulldogs heading into Saturday’s game, Melbourne will be desperate to ensure it is not third time unlucky.
Plays To Watch: Cronk the magician – the star halfback simply makes his teammates better, 14 try assists and 12 line break assists from 10 games this season is a testament to that. Rested and ready – Smith, Slater and Hoffman have been given the week off from training duties until the captain’s run on Friday so expect all three to be back to their best. Valuable Vaughn – Paul Vaughn leads the way for the Raiders this season for hit-up metres, averaging just over nine metres per hit-up. Incredible Croker – Jarrod Croker’s last three games have produced three tries, 12 of 14 conversions and an average of 141 metres.
Where It Will Be Won: In the first half – the Raiders have managed to not go into the halftime break behind on the scoreboard in their past three visits to Melbourne. For a team that has been as dismal as Canberra has been this season a strong start is the key to ensuring they head into the sheds after the first 40 minutes with those heads held high. Should the visitors manage to do that, it may well see a dreaded sense of déjà-vu sweep across AAMI Park.
History: Played 35; Storm 24, Raiders 10, draw 1 – Melbourne lead the overall head-to-head but the last 10 meetings have resulted in five wins apiece, with Canberra winning three of the last four.
What Are The Odds:
There have been 50 per cent more money on the Storm ($1.20) in this match in the head-to-head market, with Melbourne 13+ the most favoured margin. In line betting, Sportsbet punters are all over the Storm who are at home. Raiders are $4.60. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee – Shayne Hayne; Assistant Referee – Chris Butler; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Dave Ryan; Video Referees – Steve Clark & Ben Galea.
Televised: Live – Fox Sports 5.30pm (AEDT).
The Way We See It: With Storm’s Origin stars rested and close to full fitness it will be hard to pick against an improved performance from the home side. Storm 20-12.