Storm v Sea Eagles Preview

Storm v Sea Eagles
Etihad Stadium
Monday 7pm

Don’t you love it when Monday Night Football shapes up to be an absolute ‘stormer’ of a match? You watch the round play out over the weekend, Friday night’s double-header starts your weekend out nicely, Super Saturday gives you a football feast either at home or at the club with your mates, Sunday afternoon football rounds off your Sunday session perfectly but then bang – back to work Monday.

What better way to get over Mondayitis then gearing up for a mammoth game between two great rivals who have butted heads in two recent grand finals and whose last match was, what turned out to be, an elimination final.

The Storm hosts the Sea Eagles at the very venue where they ended the Sydneysiders’ premiership defence last year, giving the Manly boys plenty of motivation in the return bout.

Melbourne has enough desire building of their own, after being knocked off top spot last weekend due to a loss on the Gold Coast. They have fallen to second on differential and have named the same side that suffered the club’s first loss of the year.

The Sea Eagles have also named the same side from Round 5 into Round 6 after they hammered the hapless Sharks at Brookvale Oval to improve to a 3-2 record and fifth place on the ladder.

However, Brent Kite must overcome a judiciary hearing tonight (Wednesday) to take his place and winger Tony Williams faces disciplinary action after being nicked for drink driving.

Watch out Storm: The Sea Eagles are making reasonable yards in their matches, a stat which looks even better when stacked up against the Storm’s numbers.

So far the Manly side is averaging 1318 metres gained a match, helping them into good field position and giving them chances to mount pressure.

The Storm have struggled a little to match this output, averaging a low 1146 a match and instead have become reliant on their gun players manufacturing scoring plays from anywhere and everywhere on the field.

The problem with this is if their stars have an off night, or don’t produce the big play from distance, the side faces a loss – just as they did last Friday night.

With Greg Inglis yet to hit top form and Brett White and Ryan Hoffman still missing from the forward pack, the Melbourne side needs to ramp up its running.

Watch out Sea Eagles:
One way to bring Greg Inglis into this season might well be with pinpoint cross-field bombs – something the Storm should be looking to produce against a Sea Eagles side yet to successfully defuse a single cross-field kick this year!

At his best, Inglis is one of the game’s best aeronautical acrobats so it would be madness not to send a few skyward in his direction. The Manly back three have really struggled to find cohesion without Brett Stewart and if they are the unlucky ones to run Inglis back into form, they could be in all sorts of trouble.

Where it will be won: Through the ruck. This game will be brutal in and around the middle of the field, as both teams look to gain ascendency through the forwards.

Melbourne are relentless in trying to work through the middle of the park and they won’t care if they are waiting till the 70th minute before the Sea Eagles crack, they’ll be methodical in the game plan.
 
The bigger, slower-moving forwards in the Manly side better be ready for this encounter, as Cameron Smith will work them over and over and over, looking for a break. Plus, Cooper Cronk showed against the Dragons a fortnight ago that if Smith doesn’t get them, he will; his no-look inside pass to Billy Slater to catch out a tired Michael Weyman was a thing of beauty.

The Sea Eagles have had their fair share of success up the middle this season, scoring nine of their 22 tries up the guts. As such, they will attempt to get in the wrestle with the Storm and back themselves to come out on top.

If they can complete their sets and continue to out-gain the Storm in metres, they also have the benefit of a more accurate kicking game. Manly is finding space 68.6 per cent of the time compared to Melbourne’s 50 per cent.

The history: Played 17; Storm 10, Sea Eagles 7. The only time these two sides have met at this venue was the last time they met – last year’s finals. The Storm trounced Manly 40-12, a result that ultimately saw the Sea Eagles ousted from the title race.

Five of the past seven have gone to the Storm; however, the trend over the past five games is win-loss meaning the Sea Eagles could be due.  

Conclusion: Melbourne’s loss to the Titans and the Sea Eagles’ vein of form coming into this clash make it a mouth-watering prospect.

It is always hard to tip against the Storm in Melbourne. They rarely lose twice in a row; in fact, they only did so once in 2009, 2008 and 2006, while they went all of 2007 without back-to-back losses. The smart money therefore gets plonked on Melbourne.

Match officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Russell Turner & David Munro; Video Ref – Bill Harrigan.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.