Nigel Wall,, NRL.com
Storm v Wests Tigers
Unbeaten in their first four games of 2013, Melbourne are eyeing a valuable piece of club history on Monday – victory over the out-of-sorts Wests Tigers would see them set a new record for consecutive NRL wins.
Their 32-26 victory over the Broncos last Friday was their 12th triumph in a row, matching their previous best winning streak set between Round 12 and 24 in 2011. Melbourne remained unbeaten in their final eight games of 2012, setting up their potential benchmark on Monday.
That’s not the news Tigers coach Mick Potter wanted to hear as he sets about trying to resurrect the gold-and-blacks’ fortunes after a demoralising 26-nil capitulation to the Sea Eagles in Gosford last Thursday. Despite the whitewash the Tigers have a precarious grip on eighth place on the ladder – but with a -35 points differential they could free-fall as low as 15th should other results go against them this week!
After only an average performance in their season opener against the Dragons, Melbourne have turned up the heat with strong victories over the Cowboys, Bulldogs and Broncos. Their most recent win was arguably their best; Brisbane rode a wave of emotion at Suncorp Stadium to seize the lead with 25 minutes to play before the Storm rallied back and surged clear.
Coach Craig Bellamy has named an unchanged line-up this week, with Slade Griffin and Junior Moors added to form an extended interchange.
Meanwhile Tigers coach Potter has sprung a surprise, dropping underperforming halfback Jacob Miller and naming Braith Anasta as his replacement in the No.7. Bodene Thompson moves into the second row to cover for Anasta’s shift, with Ava Seumanufagai replacing Masada Iosefa on the bench.
Watch Out Storm: In just his second first grade game with the No.7 on his back (in his 262nd NRL appearance) Braith Anasta will be hoping for a better outcome than the only other time he’s fed the scrums. Anasta played halfback for the Roosters against Manly way back in Round 17 in 2007 – with the Tricolours swamped 56-nil. But Anasta showed a willingness to run the football – seven runs for an 80-metre gain including six tackle-breaks – that could benefit the Tigers in this clash. If Anasta runs the ball more than the Storm are accustomed to from an opposition No.7 it could put them in two minds in defence. And if Anasta is able to then promote the ball to Benji Marshall, we might just see some uncertainty and disarray from the Storm defensive line.
Melbourne’s high error count won’t be lost on Mick Potter; he’ll be stressing the need for good defensive line speed to get up in the face of the Storm and bustle them into errors. To date Melbourne have made 11.5 mistakes a match, the sixth most in the league.
Watch Out Wests Tigers: There are a bunch of concerns for the coach and fans, not the least the Tigers’ worrying defence. To date the boys from Concord have tallied the second-most missed tackles every week (28.5) and leaked the second-most line-breaks (almost six per game). That will be music to the ears of Craig Bellamy given the Storm have scored the most points (29) and tries (5.2) per match.
The Storm’s attacking combinations are well-documented threats but it appears no amount of preparation or attention can prevent them from inflicting damage. Their ‘big four’ of Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Gareth Widdop are interchangeable – last week Cronk combined with Slater in the lead-up to Matt Duffie’s 35th-minute try; Smith grubber-kicked for Slater to score in the first half; Widdop delivered an inside pass for Slater to score in the first 40; and it was a Cronk kick for Slater that wrested them back the lead late in the piece. Perhaps the best the Tigers can hope for is that the Steeden bounces their way.
Plays To Watch: Will the Storm’s front row ‘pull’ another sly move out of their hat? Bryan Norrie’s jumper grab on Sam Thaiday last week left the Broncos’ skipper unable to break from the scrum as Billy Slater sliced through to score. The refs called it part of the action – with that official go-ahead it will be interesting to see whether Bellamy gives it the green light again here.
The Tigers’ best attacking chances will come from Benji Marshall’s passing game – especially his flat, no-look deliveries to hard-charging runners on the right side of the field. Marshall has just two try assists in 2013 but he led all-comers in 2012 with 35.
Key Match-Up: Cameron Smith v Robbie Farah: a mouth-watering appetiser for what looms as a sumptuous head-to-head feast come State of Origin. Both players are pivotal to their side’s go-forward and love to create opportunities out of dummy-half.
After touching the ball 84 times and then 95 times in the first two weeks of the competition Smith has cranked up his involvement over the past fortnight, topping triple figures for receives. He bagged his first try assist last week and will be keen to get bragging rights over his opposite number.
Meanwhile Farah has hit the ground running in 2013, setting up three of the Tigers’ 12 tries so far as well as creating four clean breaks for teammates. Farah needs to get the better of this personal battle for the Tigers to have any chance of victory.
Where It Will Be Won: Attitude. We’re only four weeks into the new season but already it’s apparent from some lopsided results that anything can happen if one side turns up ready to play and the other side is not focussed.
The Storm may be the NRL benchmark but the Tigers are capable of posting plenty of points from long and short range if given the chance. It's likely we’ll get a feel for which team is the more focussed 20 minutes in.
The History: Played 22; Storm 14, Wests Tigers 8. The Storm have won six of the past 10 clashes between the sides. However, they suffered a rare home defeat to the Tigers back in Round 14 last season.
Match Officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Adam Gee; Sideline Officials – Nick Beashel & Dave Ryan; Video Referees – Sean Hampstead & Henry Perenara.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 7pm.
The Way We See It: Exposed form and home ground advantage demand a tick in the Storm box. Melbourne to register a club record 13th straight NRL win by 10 points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats