Raiders v Storm preview

Raiders v Storm
Canberra Stadium
Sunday 2pm

The southern rivalry of the NRL heats up with one team desperate to stay alive in the premiership race and the other hell-bent on extracting revenge for an upset loss earlier this year.

The Raiders may have taken down the Storm in Round 10 in Melbourne but all it has done is steeled the Storm to be even more ruthless in this trip to the nation’s capital.

Canberra’s loss to Cronulla last week leaves them back in 14th spot on the ladder and now they’ll need to win seven of the last eight games to have a chance at the finals. Not an easy assignment at the best of times, especially when this week they face table-topping Melbourne who have won six straight and who are now out of the draining representative season.

However, in a huge plus the Raiders welcome back Josh Dugan at fullback in place of Nathan Massey, while winger Reece Robinson is out and replaced by Daniel Vidot.

The Green Machine back row is also changed, with Danny Galea and Bronson Harrison coming in to start meaning Joe Picker falls to the bench and Josh Papalii is out. Josh Miller has been added as 18th man.

For Melbourne, the plaudits really should be coming their way after they have surged into top spot. The minor premiership is theirs to win or lose now, with a two-point buffer to Manly and three points to the Dragons.

Taking into account last year’s salary cap issue and the cleanout that followed, the fact they lead the way and have not simply survived but thrived through the rep season is phenomenal.

Don’t expect them to rest easy at this point. Cameron Smith returns to the starting line-up with Ryan Hinchcliffe back to the bench.

Watch Out Raiders: The Storm players are the best in the competition at pushing up in support, doing so a heap more often than the Raiders. So what? Well, support play is one of the most valued statistics by the coaches, as it shows players doing the extra yards, the extra effort to be in a place to get the ball on the current play rather than standing back and watching or preparing for the next play. It only takes a split second to get an arm free for an offload and if someone is ready for it… happy days! But if no-one is there – it’s just a wasted chance.

The Storm lead the league with 728 supports, while the Raiders have just 454 for the year so far. A damning statistic.

Danger Sign: It should come as no surprise that Billy Slater leads the Storm in supports with 121. He is lethal when he gets his hands on a clever offload; his blistering pace can see him burn past just about anyone in the game.

Gareth Widdop is another to watch (with 87) and Hinchcliffe is to be commended for his 63. These three players must be shadowed.

Watch Out Storm: Josh Dugan returns after missing out on not just Canberra games but the last two Origin encounters. He’ll be looking to get over the disappointment with a massive showing against the league leaders.

His average metres are down this year at just 84 a match but this comes from leaving the field early on occasions. He has played just six games for two line-breaks, three line-break assists, three tries and five try assists. But the time is now for him to prove himself up against Slater, the man he was supposed to battle for three Origins, not just one.

Danger Sign: Dugan must lift his involvement and inject himself into games with increased frequency, like Slater. If he does, he’ll become world class instead of just a really good player. If Dugan can become mentally tougher and support up the middle like the ever-alert Slater does, he’ll be better for it.

The Storm needs a quality kick-chase because Dugan’s kick returns can be slashing.

Plays To Watch: Storm forwards hitting the line in pairs close to the try line with option out the back; Billy Slater chiming into the backline and throwing looping cut-outs to wingers; Bronson Harrison getting his right-edge runs and offloads cranking.

Where It Will Be Won: This contest will probably come down to goal-line defence… which is bad news for Raiders fans. The Raiders are the worst team in the NRL at conceding tries from within 0-10 metres of the line, having had 35 posted against them so far. The Storm are the best in the NRL having conceded just 17 tries from the same distance.

The home side needs to somehow find a way to tighten up their defence – or they’ll be another step closer to being officially out of 2011 and planning for 2012.

The Melbourne players must maintain the same intensity they have shown for the majority of the year. They’ve been complacent against the Raiders once before this year… and were burned – chances are they won’t make the same mistake.

The History: Played 28; Raiders 7, Storm 21. The Raiders surprised plenty to beat the Storm 20-12 in Melbourne earlier this season. It was just their second win in the past 17 matches between the clubs. In the 13 matches played at Canberra Stadium Melbourne hold an 8-5 advantage. The Raiders have only beaten Melbourne twice in a season once before… way back in 2000.   

Conclusion: Your everyday rugby league fan without a tie to either club would probably like to see the Raiders win, as it would keep another team in the mix for finals and open up the minor premiership challenge again… but this is unlikely to happen.

The form is well and truly with the Storm and any chance of complacency was lost when the Raiders ambushed them earlier in the year. Melbourne will be out to punish the Raiders and unless the home side finds a magic potion quickly, things could get ugly on the scoreboard.

Match Officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Adam Devcich; Touch Judges – Luke Potter & Adam Gee; Video Ref – Chris Ward.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.