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Bulldogs v Storm
Adelaide Oval
Saturday July 10th

The last time the Bulldogs won back-to-back games was in Rounds 6 and 7. It was a long time ago, but the Dogs have finally ended their dry spell, with consecutive wins over the Raiders and the Sharks. However, those two teams are languishing near the bottom of the ladder and aren’t exactly the highest quality competition to use as a measure of form.

The Dogs’ big test big test will come this week – sure, they’re playing the last-placed team in the competition, but as most clubs that have played them since the salary cap news broke would know, the Melbourne Storm are tougher than ever.

Actually, the Bulldogs know this very well. The Dogs were absolutely blitzed by the Storm when they played them in Melbourne in Round 13, and it remains to be seen if the blue and white have actually made any real progress since.

With State of Origin over and the Storm coming to the realisation that they have nothing to play for this season, their psyche will be another thing that will be a great variable in this match-up.

The venue – Adelaide Oval – is also a great unknown. Although history shows the city attracts a healthy average crowd of 13,429 to NRL clashes there, just how much “home ground” support the Dogs are able to gain remains to be seen.

Watch out Bulldogs: Slater. Inglis. Cronk. Add young Matt Duffie to that and you’ve got a great recipe for tryscoring. Melbourne have scored 50 tries this season in general play, and 22 from line-breaks, which shows they don’t rely on set plays to get people across the try line.

Duffie in particular has been one of the finds of the season, making five clean line-breaks in just nine games, and claiming seven tries. This will worry the Dogs, who have been guilty of some pretty poor defensive reads, particularly on their own goal line. The Dogs have tallied 348 ineffective tackles this season, second only to Brisbane. They can’t afford to be lazy around a team like the Storm.

Also, the Storm have scored 13 tries off kicks, which is where the boots of Cronk, Brett Finch and also Cameron Smith come into play. Bryson Goodwin is pretty good under the high ball, showing again that he can handle the pressure laid on him by the Cronulla kickers last weekend, but the inexperienced pairing of Shane Neumann and Tim Winitana will surely be tested out.

The Dogs gave away seven penalties the last time they played the Storm, and will have to be more disciplined if they are to have any hope of keeping the Storm’s strike players away from their try line.

Watch out Storm:
The Dogs now have a whiff of making the finals, which makes them dangerous.

They also have the luxury of a strike weapon called Ben Barba, who is looking more and more comfortable in the five-eighth position. Barba has made 10 line-breaks, five line-break assists, five try assists and scored 12 tries in 13 games for the club. This is especially impressive considering he has averaged just 40 minutes on the field.

Now Kevin Moore has elevated Barba to the starting squad, the Storm won’t be able to gain the ascendancy they had the last time they played, especially if the 21-year-old and Brett Kimmorley get an accurate kicking game going.

Another surprise strike weapon for the Dogs is former Stormer Ryan Tandy. The Bulldogs’ go-forward has improved out of sight since Tandy made his way back to Sydney, with his barging runs consistently offering better field position for the team. Tandy has averaged a whopping 129.3 metres in his three games for the club, and his partnership with Ben Hannant in the front row will be crucial as the push for a finals berth.

Where it will be won: In the error count. The Bulldogs cannot afford to turn over cheap ball, as the Storm will, nine times out of 10, make them suffer. They lost their last game to the Storm in the first half, succumbing to a 23-points-to-nil deficit, but appear to have turned that around, leading by 18 points in both wins they have had in the past two weeks.

If the Bulldogs are disciplined and show urgency when defending their try line, they’re in with a chance of shutting down the well-oiled Storm machine.

The history: Played 24; Bulldogs 13, Storm 11. Melbourne have the wood over the Bulldogs in recent times, winning seven of the past 10 games. In fact, the Storm had a flawless record against the Dogs for three years between 2005 and 2008.

The Dogs also have the most recent bad memories, losing 46-nil at Olympic Park in 2008 and 23-12 when they faced them at AAMI Park earlier this season.

Conclusion: It’s anyone’s guess how the Storm will play week to week from now until the end of the season. So far they have generally been extremely professional and shown their usual brilliance in matches.

 However, they have also lost three of their past four games – although their win was a 46-point drubbing of the Cowboys.

The Bulldogs may have looked out of the race this time three weeks ago, but confidence is a crazy thing. With everything to play for, you would think desperation might get them over the line.

Match officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Tony De Las Heras; Sideline Officials – Steve Chiddy & Luke Potter; Video Ref – Phil Cooley.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.
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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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