Storm v Broncos Preview

Michael Maguire on the Storm's line-up

Ivan Henjak on the Broncos' line-up

Storm v Broncos
Olympic Park
Friday 7.35pm

Just 48 hours after playing together as a bonded, tight-knit passionate unit in Origin I, a big chunk of the Maroons’ squad will face up against each other looking to tear each other apart.

These two teams have fashioned quite a rivalry in recent years and while several stars from both sides will be backing up from a brutal Origin match it will still be one heck of an encounter.

The preparations of both sides will have been obviously affected, as the Broncos have been missing Darren Lockyer, Karmichael Hunt, Justin Hodges, Israel Folau, Peter Wallace and Sam Thaiday, while the Storm spent the week without Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Greg Inglis, Dallas Johnson and coach Craig Bellamy.

Thankfully for the Storm, they have a fairly handy assistant in New Zealand national coach Stephen Kearney who held down the fort while Bellamy was away.

Just how many of the 10 players involved manage to back up in this match remains to be seen but it won’t stop these two rivals trying to wipe each other off the Telstra Premiership landscape.

The rivalry grew from the relationship between former Broncos coach Wayne Bennett and Bellamy and hit the heights in the 2006 grand final won against the odds by Brisbane. Although Bennett has moved on, the passion remains.

Both sides are fresh off the bye in terms of NRL football, with the Storm sitting in sixth place after a last-start loss to the Bulldogs.

Winger Anthony Quinn is out of the side due to suspension, which brings Joseph Tomane back into the picture. Adam Blair also returns at prop with Brett White moving back to the bench and Scott Anderson missing out. However, several players are on standby should the Origin boys face problems.

The Broncos are equal first, but ranked second on differential, sitting just three competition points ahead of the Storm. They won their previous two matches, against the Gold Coast and Wests Tigers, before the bye and have a few changes from the side that last suited up.

Justin Hodges rejoins the squad, provided he gets through Origin, with Alex Glenn back to the bench. Hooker Andrew McCullough has been promoted back to the starting side with PJ Marsh to the bench.

Josh McGuire, Palmer Wapau, Jharal Yow Yeh and 17-year-old Dale Copley have all been added to a bench of nine players to provide cover for the Origin players.

Watch out Storm: Your former team-mate and buddy Israel Folau is coming back to Olympic Park focussed on replicating his try-scoring dominance at the venue… unfortunately he’ll be in a Brisbane jersey.

The big, bustling 20-year-old has scored 10 tries already this season and has eight line breaks also. He is averaging 120 metres gained a match and has an ultra impressive 48 broken tackles.

Along with Justin Hodges on the right side, Folau has Brisbane well and truly firing. The Storm so often dined out on his strength from close range and also his leaping ability to take down kicks. Now they must come up with a way to stop him… or face big trouble.

Watch out Broncos
: Billy Slater is set to have a big impact on this game provided he gets through Origin I unscathed. The Broncos are running last in kick accuracy with a 42.6 per cent success rate at finding space, and that spells huge problems for Brisbane.

If the ball hits Slater on the full often, he’ll tear the visitors apart. He is averaging 116 metres gained a game and has eight line breaks, seven line-break assists, seven tries, 63 tackle breaks and five try assists.

The Broncos’ halves need to find a way to kick to space as even if they kick to the wings on the full either Joseph Tomane or Steve Turner will link with Slater if given the chance. At the very least the wingers will get the Storm on the front foot.

Where it will be won: Taking chances when they present themselves. In games like this one, opportunities can be few and far between, and both teams will need to capitalise on the breaks when they come.

If form is anything to go by the Storm have the edge in this department. The Melbourne boys have turned 42.22 per cent of their line breaks into tries so far in 2009, while the Broncos have managed to convert on just 29.17 per cent of occasions. As both teams have had similar amounts of breaks (Brisbane 48, Melbourne 45) this is a significant difference. The Broncos need to anticipate breaks by supporting every ball runner to lift their conversion rate and give themselves a much better chance to win their first game in Melbourne in a very long time.

The History: Played 25; Storm 14, Broncos 10, drawn 1. The Broncos snapped a five-game Storm run with a 16-14 win in Round 2 but Melbourne have still has won six of the past eight. At Olympic Park the home side has a significant 7-2 advantage, with Brisbane not winning at the venue since 2002.

Conclusion:
Brisbane may be up on top of the table coming into this match but the Melbourne side have every chance of taking them down here. Obviously plenty will ride on just who takes the field post-Origin but chances are the Broncos will be afflicted worse than the home side through sheer numbers alone.

Leave your tip until late Friday – but don’t let ladder position be your only guide.  

Match officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Gavin Badger; Sideline Officials – Russell Turner & Gavin Reynolds; Video Ref – Sean Hampstead.

Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm (Qld), delayed 9.30pm (NSW); Fox Sports – Delayed 11.30pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.