William Botoulas, Melbourne Correspondent, NRL.com
Storm v Roosters
The reigning champs roll into town with their swagger regained and back to their best to face a side that has been battered from pillar to post recently.
The Roosters have won five of their past six games and have placed their slow start to the season well and truly in the rear-view mirror.
The Tri-colours now have a big opportunity to lay the foundation for a strong second half of the year. Here they travel south to face an under-strength Storm side, with a deflated Knights outfit next on the radar in Round 14.
The Storm had a nightmare week capped off by a haunting result last weekend.
Melbourne were held scoreless for only the fifth time in their history, going down by 22 points against the Cowboys last Saturday night.
Cameron Smith fueled the doubters who believed he may be a specimen greater than human when he overcame an ankle sprain to go out and record 54 tackles, just 72 hours after a grueling Origin contest.
Tohu Harris has been named at five-eighth while Roberts shifts to halfback as the Storm desperately try to find a solution in Cooper Cronk’s absence.
Junior Moors has been named on the bench for what could be his first game of the year.
Back-to-back wins mean the Roosters look to be sticking with a winning formula and are unchanged apart from Willis Meehan named as 18th man.
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Watch Out Storm: Opposition sides have looked to test Melbourne with the high ball this season. Storm wingers Sisa Waqa and Young Tonumaipea have looked nervy negotiating the opposition's kicking game, as was apparent last week against the Cowboys. Both scuffed high balls near their own try line as the side conceded three of four tries down the wings. That is the precise area the Roosters love to exploit.
The visitors’ bread-and-butter play is the James Maloney high ball to a leaping Daniel Tupou. Tupou backed up his Origin performance with three tries last week and with Slater still missing, Waqa and Tonumaipea will be left worryingly exposed.
Melbourne have failed to register a point in two of the past three games they have played without Cooper Cronk. Cronk is a creative genius; his 13 try assists from nine games this year are testament to that. However the Storm will continue to suffer on the scoreboard in his absence. The Storm managed to score four tries without him in the Round 1 win over Manly so it is not yet a consistent trend; however it remains a concerning one.
Watch Out Roosters: The premiers have made the second most errors of any team in the competition this season, averaging 12 a game. This stat has a trickle-on effect as to why this side also ranks 3rd for incomplete sets and has a completion rate of just 70 per cent. By comparison the Storm have a completion rate of just over 78 per cent. The Bondi boys are still finding a way to win though, as they did against the Raiders last week despite making 13 errors and tallying 12 incomplete sets. The Roosters have not been made to pay for their fumbles in recent games but you can only flirt with fate so much before it comes back to bite you.
Who would want to travel down to Melbourne? The weather is cold, wet and windy this time of year and clearly it is not a trip the Roosters enjoy making. Sydney have won just one of their past eight games in Melbourne. The last was in Round 14, 2010, a game in which the Storm Big Three were all absent. With two of the three missing on Sunday the Roosters will be looking to improve that dismal visiting record.
Plays To Watch:
Cameron Smith surprised all by playing last week and made 54 tackles to further cement his champion status; he must play a blinder to give Storm any chance. Confidence is sky high for NSW winger Daniel Tupou after three tries last week. And the in-form Anthony Minichiello has seven tries in 12 rounds this year, one more than he did all last season.
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Where It Will be Won: Creativity in the final 20 is vital at the top level and for the next two months Melbourne will be without their gun halfback. Scoreless last week the Storm have this week named a curious halves pairing in Tohu Harris and Ben Roberts. Johnathan Thurston did as he pleased last week and on Sunday a fresh and in-form James Maloney could do the same. Maloney has 11 try assists in 12 games this season and a mismatch at five-eighth could again prove the tipping point.
History: Played 27: Storm 14, Roosters 11, drawn 2. Melbourne have dominated the past decade between these two teams, winning four of the past 14 encounters.
What Are The Odds: Basically a 50-50 split in interest on head-to-head at Sportsbet.com.au but not as much interest in this game as some of the other matches.
Match Officials: Referee – Shayne Hayne; Assistant Referee – Henry Perenara; Touch Judges – Michael Wise, Adam Reid; Video Referees – Bernard Sutton, Ben Galea.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.40pm (AEDT).
The Way We See It: In more favourable conditions the Storm should improve from last week’s effort but they remain without Slater and Cronk and run into a Roosters outfit that is building towards a premiership defence. Roosters easily by 12+ points.