Storm v Dragons Preview

Storm v Dragons
Etihad Stadium
Friday 2.10pm (AEDT)

Bogey teams – every NRL side has them. And some more than others. Unfortunately for the Dragons, theirs is Melbourne – the Storm are their out-and-out nemesis, given they’ve only beaten them six times in 23 outings, which represents their worst win ratio against any side in the NRL.

But more than that, the Storm haven’t surrendered the competition points to the Red V on home soil in the Victorian capital since 1999!

That adds extra interest to this Good Friday afternoon clash between two of the three undefeated sides after Round 3.

The Storm may have six competition points but they have been far from impressive. They scraped home (14-10) to inflict the Sharks’ 11th straight loss in Round 1, before similarly unconvincing wins against the beleaguered Knights (20-14) and then the Panthers last week (16-10).

They’ve not been without their personnel problems, with Brett White, Sika Manu, Ryan Hoffman, Chase Stanley and John Kite all sidelined through injury – although they received a boost last week when Cooper Cronk had his first run for the season and immediately rescued them from the flames at CUA Stadium.

Conversely the Dragons have absolutely flown out of the blocks, their three wins (Eels 18-12, Bulldogs 26-6 and Cowboys 33-8) giving the joint venture their best ever start to a season.

Also, their 26 points conceded is the second fewest surrendered by any side over the past decade.

Watch out Storm:
Massive territory gained and an unrivalled average completion rate tell the story for the Dragons.

Wayne Bennett has his side completing 88 per cent of their sets through three rounds – a massive eight per cent better than the next best Sea Eagles and 18 per cent better than the Storm.

With that much ball, it’s no wonder their big forwards are posting impressive numbers – Dan Hunt 41 runs for an average 104 metres a game, Michael Weyman 35 runs for an average 8.6-metre carry, Matt prior 101 metres a game.

Overall the Dragons rank third for territory gained, averaging 1387 metres compared to the Storm’s modest 1135 metres – which is the second fewest metres gained in the comp to date.
 
This disciplined approach has earned the Dragons excellent field position from which to launch attacks – mostly down the left edge where Brett Morris (averaging 152 metres a game, fifth in the NRL) has five tries already.

The Storm need to try to bustle their opponents into error and keep them out of their 20-metre zone – the Dragons have scored eight of their 13 tries inside the 20.

Watch out Dragons: Beware the sleeping giant. Or make that ‘GI’ant. Greg Inglis’ 2010 stats aren’t anywhere in the superstar league – he is averaging just 73 metres a game and has just one line-break. Worse, he is yet to record a line-break assist – one of his fortes.

The Storm need Inglis to find form soon – and given the history between these two teams, and Inglis’ classic ‘don’t argue’ fend on Jamie Soward when scoring a try last year, this is just the game to reignite his passion.

Also, the Dragons need to put towering prop Aiden Tolman on his backside early – Tolman leads the NRL for most runs (60) and will be a thorn if not contained.

Billy Slater is an obvious danger man. He has been involved in 50 per cent of the Storm’s eight scoring plays – he has three try assists and one four-pointer himself.

Where it will be won:
In the early exchanges. The Dragons have been ultra impressive in the first three weeks, with quick starts a feature in all of their wins. They led the Eels 12-0 after 22 minutes, then raced away from the Bulldogs to lead 16-0 in even time in Round 2. Last week they led the Cowboys 10-2 after 14 minutes.

Meanwhile, it took the Storm 35 minutes to get on the scoreboard against the Sharks in Round 1; they trailed Newcastle 14-0 after 22 minutes and held just a 6-4 lead over the Panthers after 34 minutes last week.

It’s not rocket science: Wayne Bennett will be drilling his side into trying to play error-free football from the start. Conversely Craig Bellamy will be after better ball control from his side.

The History: Played 23; Storm 16, Dragons 6, drawn 1. The Storm have won six of the past eight games between the sides and hold a 1-0 advantage at Etihad Stadium.

Melbourne won 17-16 in a golden point nail-biter in Round 1 last year, before the Dragons won 26-12 at Kogarah in Round 21.

Conclusion:
Wayne Bennett lost his very first NRL game at the helm of the Dragons to this side in Round 1 last year. But since then, his players have never been out of the top eight.

The aura of invincibility Melbourne have had around them when it comes to the Dragons over the past decade seems to be dissipating.

Even though this one is in Melbourne, a comparison of the performances of these two sides to date is like chalk and cheese. The Dragons by a two-try margin.

Match officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials – David Abood & Gavin Morris; Video ref – Bill Harrigan.

Televised: Channel 9 – Delayed from 4pm; Fox Sports 2 – Delayed 1am Sat.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.