Melbourne Storm v Warriors
The Warriors will feel a lot better about this year’s Anzac Day encounter than they did in 2010. Ivan Cleary’s men were doomed for failure when last season they took to this ground against a Melbourne team charged by emotion.
The Storm were playing their first match since the salary cap bombshell had been dropped on them a few days earlier, and with everything to prove that week, the Warriors never really had a chance and were trounced 40-6.
In every respect they start on an even playing field this week; the Storm’s stars have been trimmed and there’s no artificial motivator to wipe the Warriors out of the contest. However, it doesn’t mean things will get any easier for Cleary’s charges, who are still trying to ‘discover’ themselves this season.
Just when they looked like they’d got things on track with back-to-back wins over Cronulla and the Roosters, the Warriors were ordinary again on the road last round against Manly. Consequently Cleary has made a key change for the Storm clash, with halfback Brett Seymour brought back from reserve grade to lead the attack.
Seymour was out of sorts in the early part of the year, and the Warriors will be hoping he’s played himself back into form with the Vulcans in the NSW Cup and is now ready to provide the steady hand they need. James Maloney moves to five-eighth, which allows Feleti Mateo to switch back into the forwards and ideally play a less-structured game.
Meanwhile Melbourne are flying high at the top of the table with five wins and just one loss. Newly re-signed winger Matt Duffie will complete a stunning calendar year for the Storm and he typifies their potency in attack: Duffie made his debut against the Warriors on Anzac Day last year and has since scored 13 tries in 18 games – ranking fifth in Storm history for least touches required for every try scored (23.8). That’s some feat.
Watch Out Storm: Lance Hohaia made a return to form against the Roosters two weeks ago, and shapes as the Warriors’ key man in attack. His influence from the back makes the little man the most likely to crack the Storm’s resilient defence.
Hohaia has faced the might of the Storm on 17 occasions in his career, more than any other Warriors player – and with his experience, won’t be intimidated. While he’s only ever scored one try against the Storm, he’s fared well with a club-high eight wins, 1364 metres gained, 45 tackle-breaks and five line-break assists. He only needs five runs in the match to overtake Awen Guttenbeil’s record (184) for most runs by a Warrior against the men in purple.
Danger Sign: The only time the Storm have been stung this season was by a robust performance by North Queensland’s forwards in Round 3. With the likes of Feleti Mateo (most offloads in NRL with 19), Ben Matulino, Ukuma Ta’ai, Sam Rapira and Russell Packer, the Warriors have players who can make a dent in the line and then pop the pass. This is how to get the Storm pack on the back foot.
The key is catching the Storm out of position in defence; last week against Manly Rapira had 14 runs for 127 metres, a tackle-break, as well as 34 tackles. It’s this kind of work rate that’s needed to break the Storm down over 80 minutes.
Watch Out Warriors: In simple terms, the Storm are strong right across the park: the best attacking team in the competition, and the third strongest defensive team. There’s no two ways about it, if Melbourne bring their A game, they really can’t lose.
The combination of Billy Slater, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk is unrivalled in the NRL. Even though it was a tough decision to let Greg Inglis go, it’s obvious the Storm had to keep this trio together. Smith (leading point-scorer, best dummy-half runner and third-most tackles) has been at his best this year, getting the Storm out of dummy-half and on the front foot. Then there’s Cooper Cronk who will control the match with his kicking (second most kicks in NRL) and organise his side like no other. Billy Slater (most line-breaks this season with eight) will then pop up everywhere and put opposition sides to the sword.
Danger Sign: If stopping the ‘holy trinity’ isn’t enough, the Warriors then have boom five-eighth Gareth Widdop to contend with, who leads his superstar team-mates for try assists this year with eight. The Englishman carved up last week against Penrith, laying on three tries in the match, and getting within one try assist of Cooper Cronk’s club record after six rounds (nine in 2008). Widdop is also gaining on average 77.7 metres a match, which is second only to Greg Inglis (95 in 2008) for the highest by a Storm half.
Plays To Watch: Like Billy Slater on the other side of the fence, Hohaia can shift into the line and create havoc on the edges. He has his stop-start play, where he is terribly effective at propping before the defence, and then sliding through a gap to score. Hohaia also loves to chime into a backline movement and will try and hit big winger Krisnan Inu with a choice pass close to the line. Hohaia hasn’t had a flying start, but still has a couple of try assists and line-breaks to his name, and will be determined to finish his NRL career on a high – and not lose his Kiwi Test jersey.
Slater has some pet plays of his own that will keep the Warriors guessing. He’ll jump into dummy-half (the Storm have more line-breaks out of here than any other team), and will also make his presence felt as a second five-eighth. The fullbacks will be the big attacking influences on this match.
Where It Will Be Won: Melbourne are the only team to hold the Warriors scoreless over the past decade (30-0 in September 2009) and defence should again get the Storm home here. The Warriors simply haven’t played with enough confidence this season to ambush Melbourne, who look as comfortable as any team.
It’s obvious the Warriors have tried to curb their notorious ad-lib style, but in doing so have become unsure about everything they do with the ball. The Warriors need to let the Steeden move, because even if there are some mistakes made, that’s when they’re dangerous and capable of beating any team.
However, the Storm will worry them, and winning on the road in a hyped-up match is too much for Cleary’s men at this stage of the season. Melbourne are too competent across the park, and their winning streak will continue.
The History: Played 26; Melbourne 13, Warriors 11, drawn 2. The Storm have won five of the past eight games between the sides, although the Warriors won the last encounter 13-6 at Mt Smart Stadium last year. They are yet to play at AAMI Park.
Conclusion: The Warriors can take some confidence into this match regarding their record over the Storm. They shared the points with Melbourne last season (even though Melbourne had little to play for in their return bout in Auckland). In 2009, they lost a match, but also drew a result. And in 2008 they won two out of three matches against the side that went on to make the grand final.
That record is better than most clubs can attest to against a superstar team that was proven to have bent the rules. The Warriors aren’t without hope, but the momentum is all in Melbourne’s favour and they’ll need something special to stop the purple rush on Anzac Day.
Match Officials: Referees: Shayne Hayne & Gavin Morris; Sideline Officials: Daniel Eastwood and Adam Gee; Video Referee: Pat Reynolds.
Television: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats