Storm v Roosters preview

Storm v Roosters
AAMI Park
Monday 7pm

Amongst all the talk of possible teams expansion in the near future, the biggest concern must be playing depth. Well, with the Origin period in full flight here we have an excellent opportunity to get out and see some exciting talent not often sighted and make the judgment for yourself: Are there boom players just waiting for their chances?

This week’s shortened round concludes with an intriguing match-up. It pits the second-placed Storm up against the struggling Sydney Roosters who are in 13th; however with regular players missing, form can almost be ignored (note the disclaimer ‘almost’).

Melbourne managed to get up over South Sydney last weekend to make it back-to-back wins in recent rounds. Despite playing below their best they still found a way to nab the competition points – one of the signs of a great team. But can they rally without Cameron Smith, their skipper who scored the match-winner at the death? In 16 games without him they have won just half those encounters.

They will also be missing fullback Billy Slater, centre Dane Nielsen and halfback Cooper Cronk to the Maroons – so who will step up?

Justin O’Neill moves from wing to fullback, with Anthony Quinn coming onto the flank. Beau Champion returns from injury at centre for Nielsen in some nice timing for the side, while Country Origin star Ryan Hinchcliffe moves from lock to hooker to cover for Smith.

Rory Kostjasyn has been handed the halfback’s jersey, Todd Lowrie will play lock and Atelea Vea joins the bench.

In another change Jesse Bromwich will start at prop with Jaiman Lowe reverting to the bench.

For the Roosters, last week brought a much-needed victory over the Warriors. Their defence was rock solid, not conceding a single line-break, but just as they get back on track they lose Mitchell Pearce, Nate Myles and Anthony Minichiello to Origin duties. This really is a must-win for the chooks… you don’t get a crack at an under-strength Storm side all that often.

Rhys Pritchard moves from the wing to fullback to cover Minichiello with Sam Perrett making a timely return from injury on the wing.

With Pearce gone, Todd Carney moves to halfback and Braith Anasta shifts to five-eighth. Frank-Paul Nuuausala moves up to Myles’ prop position, leaving a new-look second row of Tom Symonds and Boyd Cordner. Aidan Guerra comes in at lock.

In a further blow for the Roosters, Shaun Kenny-Dowall is missing with Willie Mataka coming in at centre.

Brad Takairangi and Mark Riddell are the new bench players.

Watch Out Storm: There are a couple of ex-Dragons team-mates in this Roosters side that know it’s time to lift. The pair are aware they aren’t playing to the standards they know they can and now is the time to up the effort. Yep, prop Jason Ryles and back-up hooker/second-rower Mark Riddell are due big games.

When at his towering best, Ryles can make damaging metres and throw an offload better than most. But he averages just 85 metres and has popped just four passes this year. If he is going to enjoy his football he needs to start ‘playing’ football – and the whispers are you might see a bit of ball-playing in Melbourne.

Riddell needs to get his hands on the ball more and start running. Watch for him to try to get into dummy-half, particularly close to the line. There hasn’t really been a better exponent of tries from dummy-half for ages.

Danger Sign: Considering he has averaged just half an offload a match, if you see Ryles hit and spin early in the match perhaps the whispers we’re hearing are true. With teams not sending multiple numbers to tackle the veteran these days his chance is there. Has coach Smith unlocked his shackles?

Watch Out Roosters: Due to their poor performances to date there are so many facts and figures the Roosters need to be wary of. They have conceded the most tries in the league after the fourth tackle, they have only six line-breaks from inside their own half (ranking them least penetrable from long range) and they are averaging just 14.7 points a match, their worst return since their dismal 1990 season. These are just a handful of damaging stats you may not have heard.

The Storm are expecting a big game from stand-in skipper Adam Blair. There has been plenty of hype concerning his worth on the market in recent times… here is a chance for him to prove just how valuable he is.

Danger Sign: Blair is an emotion-driven player. You’ll be able to tell if he is switched on from the ferocity of his early touches. If he is hurtling into the defence with aggression it could be a tough evening for Roosters’ defenders.

Plays To Watch: Anasta’s left-foot step and taking on the line close; Sam Perrett’s welcome dummy-half scoots early in the tackle count; Kevin Proctor working over the edges; Beau Champion finding space on the outside.

Where It Will Be Won: In the halves. Sure, the most influential player in the Storm side is hooker Cameron Smith but in this match it will be Cooper Cronk’s absence that will be harder felt. Smith has Hinchcliffe filling in, a more-than-capable replacement, but there is plenty of pressure on Kostjasyn. He must combine with Gareth Widdop, a virtual rookie in the halves himself, to combat Anasta and Carney.

Granted, the Roosters’ duo haven’t played together in this fashion in a while and the team isn’t really on fire, but they are proven performers. If the game gets into ‘clutch’ mode, who can you rely on to control the tempo and get the side home?

We have to give Widdop some ‘props’ here though. He has made 12 line-breaks and 11 try assists already this season. A sensational effort. But can he be as dominant without the stars around him commanding defenders?

The other big factor in this game will be pure heart and desire. The Roosters in particular have to want this game and they have to be prepared to go after it. If they think for even a second that the Storm will be an easy proposition because of the missing stars, they will cop a thorough whipping.   

The History: Played 21; Storm 11, Roosters 10. The Roosters have a decent record against the Storm and actually inflicted the Storm’s second-largest home defeat (38-6) in the last match between the clubs in Melbourne last year, the only match at this venue between the teams. (The Storm did win the previous three matches beforehand though.) The Roosters are the only team this year that haven’t won an away game.

Conclusion: If the Roosters are entertaining thoughts of making another dazzling run through to a grand final then this is a must-win game. They should be desperate – and just good enough through their experience in the halves – to engineer an upset. But the Storm will not let go lightly. There is more pride in this band than in most sides and if they get a sniff, they will seize it.

Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Tony De Las Heras; Touch Judges – Jeff Younis & Adam Reid; Video Ref – Bernard Sutton.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.