Sunday, 2pm (AEST)
The NRL competition’s transgressors of 2002 and 2010 make for an interesting backdrop in this Sunday afternoon’s clash between the Bulldogs and Storm.
If anyone knows how the Storm are feeling at the moment, it’s the Bulldogs. And despite the incredulous taunts by the Raiders fans during Melbourne’s most recent game in Canberra two weeks ago, it’s hard to believe the Bulldogs will hand them the same treatment.
With no disrespect to whiz kid Ben Barba and journeyman Blake Green, the Bulldogs appeared rudderless against the Panthers last week, and will certainly welcome back their pair of maestros Brett Kimmorley and Michael Ennis from NSW Origin duty for their inaugural game at AAMI Park.
They will also be thankful to have big Jamal Idris back on deck.
The Storm, meanwhile, will be fresh from a much-needed week off and will look to continue to defy critics, who are just waiting for the wheels to fall off their season. But as the blue-and-white army would know, the dramas of the salary cap scandal seem to have steeled Melbourne and broken the shackles on their under-rated attack, much to the despair of opposition teams.
Bulldogs coach Kevin Moore is still without two of his big men – Ben Hannant and Jarrad Hickey – while another two forwards, Mickey Paea and Dean Halatau, have been dropped to NSW Cup.
The Storm, meanwhile, will have to make do without Cameron Smith and winger Anthony Quinn, while crossing their fingers that Billy Slater, Greg Inglis, Cooper Cronk and Brett White make it through Origin unscathed.
Watch out Storm: If there’s a chink in the Storm defensive armour, it’s the slight edge opposition teams have in scoring down Melbourne’s right side, which has so far conceded 13 of 21 tries this season.
That spells danger for centre Dane Neilsen and his winger, rookie Matt Duffie, as they face NSW hopeful Josh Morris and New Zealand flyer Bryson Goodwin, who have 10 tries and 51 tackle-breaks between them.
Watch out Bulldogs: As stated earlier, and in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past month, Storm coach Craig Bellamy has unshackled Melbourne’s attack; they now lead the competition in clean line-breaks.
Showing the way are their back three of Billy Slater (five), Matt Duffie (five) and Anthony Quinn (eight). Between them, they’ve scored almost half of the team’s tries this year – that spells trouble for the Dogs’ defence, which has the third worst tackling efficiency in the competition (83.6 per cent).
Where it will be won: As will be the case for most of the games this weekend, much will depend on the battle-weary survivors from Origin I. The visitors’ trio in Brett Kimmorley, Michael Ennis and Jamal Idris were sorely missed against the Panthers last week and how they pull up from Wednesday night – the two playmakers especially – will have an influence on how they fare against the Storm.
Meanwhile, although the hosts’ trio of Billy Slater, Greg Inglis, and Brett White have backed up before, halfback and lynchpin Cooper Cronk has not; his presence (or lack of it) will dramatically alter how the Storm head into this game. And while physical recovery will be the aim, don’t overlook how significant the mental application of these Origin stars in this game might affect the outcome of this match.
The history: Played 24; Canterbury-Bankstown 13, Melbourne 10, Drawn 1. The Bulldogs would be one of the rare teams to lead the overall ledger against the Storm, and they also broke a five-game losing streak against the southerners stretching back to 2005 with a 26-10 victory at Bluetongue Stadium last year.
Conclusion: Melbourne dispelled fears they couldn’t win without captain Cameron Smith, downing the Raiders in Canberra two weeks ago. And with the Bulldogs looking vulnerable in 2010 – especially in the front row where Ben Hannant hasn’t been seen for a month – it appears as though the Storm head into this one as favourites.
Match officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Ashley Klein; Sideline officials – Ricky McFarlane & Phil Haines; Video Referee – Chris Ward.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm.