Mt Smart Stadium
Saturday 7.30pm NZ Time (5.30pm AEST)
While the home-side Warriors are just looking to give their loyal fans something to cheer about the Melbourne Storm come into this match with plenty to play for.
Regardless of the result the Warriors will finish 14th in 2009, a major disappointment for a side that set the finals alight last season as the first team to beat the minor premiers in the first week of the playoffs.
But the Storm, who are currently fourth, are well aware the only way to guarantee a home semi-final is through victory across the Tasman.
Should they falter, they could finish as low as sixth. In fact, it is possible, but extremely unlikely, they could finish seventh if they were belted by the Warriors and Parramatta smashed the Dragons (with Brisbane and Manly also winning).
This should provide plenty of motivation for a big performance against a Warriors side that lost some experience to injury this week.
Having being given a touch-up by the Bulldogs in Sydney the Warriors appear to be going through the motions, looking forward to some rest in the off-season.
Jerome Ropati and Manu Vatuvei are out of the side, with Patrick Ah Van moving from wing to centre and Kevin Locke coming in on one wing, with Aidan Kirk joining the side on the other wing.
The Storm made light work of the Roosters last weekend to bring back some flow to their attack; they bring a similar side to Auckland albeit without prop Scott Anderson who has a hamstring strain that should be right for Finals Week One. Aiden Tolman comes off the bench to start at prop while Hep Cahill takes the free spot in the reserves.
Watch out Warriors: The Storm might have some attacking dynamos but they will look to win the game with suffocating defence. They are still the most effective tacklers in the NRL and have missed fewer tackles than any other side, so the home side will need to think outside the box to penetrate the brick wall.
Expect the Melbourne defence to swarm up and into the Warriors’ big men and for their wide men to cut down options before they get started.
Maybe it is time for the home side to throw convention out the window and play touch football-style in attack… they might not win but it will certainly be entertaining.
Watch out Storm: With this being the Warriors’ final match of the season it is also the last chance for a few players to get off the ‘duck egg’ when it comes to tries. Everybody saw how important a try was to Bulldog prop Jarrad Hickey last weekend against the Warriors when he deprived Hazem El Masri a fairytale try to ensure he was off the ‘nudie run’ so we could see some similar selfishness from Warriors prop Evarn Tuimavave and benchmen Ian Henderson, Jacob Lillyman and Ben Matulino who are yet to cross the stripe.
The Storm can expect all four individuals to run that little bit harder when the try line is approaching, so they should be prepared!
Where it will be won: Warriors’ defence, or lack of it, against Greg Inglis. It is no secret Inglis is the Storm’s major attacking weapon and it is hard enough to defend against him when you have plenty to play for – but with little motivation will the Warriors be up to the task?
Inglis can step off either foot with style, he has extreme acceleration and he has a powerful fend which he can produce freakishly across his own body and still provide major force. To take down or limit Inglis it takes heavy focus and considering the home side’s biggest motivating factor is sending Stacey Jones off a winner (granted it should have some stirring effect) compared to the prospect of a home final for the Storm, well, it points towards a day out for the man they call GI.
Inglis averages 117 metres a match and has 11 line breaks, seven line-break assists, eight try assists, 11 tries and 86 tackle breaks so far this season. It will be a major surprise if he doesn’t add to all of those categories in this match.
The history: Played 23; Warriors 10, Storm 11, drawn 2. The two sides couldn’t be separated earlier this year after they played out a 14-all draw at Olympic Park and the Warriors won the two previous encounters.
At Mt Smart Stadium the home side has a slender 6-5 advantage. The past two matches at the venue have been low-scoring affairs, with the Warriors winning 8-6 in 2008 and the Storm winning 4-2 in 2007.
Conclusion: This game might be in Auckland and the Warriors might have a reasonable record against the Storm but this match should quite simply be nothing short of a Melbourne victory if the Storm are
serious about the 2009 premiership.
They have plenty to play for, while the Warriors are just suiting up for pride. Hopefully we will see some vintage Stacey Jones magic to remember just how good the little maestro was, and has been. But the chances of him orchestrating an upset win appear slim.
Match officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Adam Reid & Phil Haines; Video Ref – Phil Cooley.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.