Storm v Raiders
The Raiders have beaten the Storm each of the past two years at AAMI Park, but many people will consider that just another pointer to the likelihood of the Green Machine losing down there this time. How can the mighty Storm be beaten three times in a row at their home ground by the same team? It just doesn’t sound possible for any side, let alone one like the Raiders that is still trying to find its way this season.
The Storm are, of course, on a massive roll that stretches back to Round 22 of last season. That week, they began a winning streak that went through to the grand final and added up to eight matches. They have since won their first seven matches of this season, pushing that run out to 15 games. They have entered the stratosphere of league winning streaks now, but don’t expect the pressure of trying to maintain such a run to upset them. They’re not that type of team.
Although... it should not be forgotten the Raiders smashed the premiers 40-8 in Geelong in a trial game in early February – the only defeat they have tasted since commencing their NRL streak last in 2012.
The Raiders are winning at home and losing away this season. They have beaten the Dragons, Roosters and Warriors at Canberra Stadium, but lost on the road to the Panthers, Titans, Knights and Cowboys. They will try to draw confidence from the fact they have knocked the Storm over on the latter’s home turf a couple of times in recent years, but the bookies have the Storm as short-priced favourites for a good reason – they are the best team in the competition.
The Storm have the added luxury of being able to field a very settled side. Their 17 is unchanged for this match, with Kenneath Bromwich the extra man in case of a late withdrawal. The Raiders, on the other hand, have been forced to move things around a bit because of injury. Jack Wighton goes from wing to centre to fill in for Jarrod Croker, with Sandor Earl coming on to the wing. The bench changes, with Joel Thompson out and Terry Campese promoted to the starting side. Anthony Milford, Joe Picker, Jarrad Kennedy and Shaun Berrigan come in on what is currently a six-man bench. Sam Williams is gone from halfback to make way for Campese at five-eighth. Josh McCrone switches from five-eighth to halfback.
Watch Out Storm: Campese has had two games off the bench for the Raiders since returning from injury. He played for 49 minutes against the Warriors and 54 against the Cowboys. Now he’s back in the starting side, at five-eighth. Campese is the glue that holds the Raiders together when he’s fit and well. If they are to compete in this game, he must be prominent.
Watch Out Raiders: Did somebody mention the “big three”? Okay, we’ll mention a couple of others. Second-rower Ryan Hoffman, stationed on the left for the Storm, is maintaining his status as a damaging runner of the ball. In five of his seven games he has run for more than 100 metres, with 97 in one of the other two. He has two line-breaks and three offloads.
Also, the Dragons haven’t paid big money to get Gareth Widdop next season on a whim. He has two line-breaks and three offloads as well, and is constantly dangerous.
Plays To Watch: The Raiders can be ordinary in defence near their own line, and Storm second-rower Kevin Proctor is a damaging runner on the right-hand side. He’s big, raw-boned and hard to stop, and he could jag an important try in a game like this.
If the Raiders are going to do anything in this match, they need their most exciting steppers and runners to be at or near the peak of their form. Enter Reece Robinson (140 metres a match, 27 tackle busts) and Blake Ferguson (93 metres average, 14 tackle busts). Time to ramp it up in this one, fellas.
Key Match-Up: Does it get more lopsided in terms of experience than Cameron Smith against Matt McIlwrick in the battle of the hookers? The Storm’s Smith is 29, with 245 first-grade games, 27 State of Origins and 31 Tests. McIlwrick, for the Raiders, is 22, with nine first-grade games. McIlwrick made four errors in his first three games for the Raiders this season, and has made none in his two games since. That is encouraging. But this does look a lopsided affair.
The History: Played 31; Storm 23, Raiders 7. The Storm have won six of the past nine clashes – although the Raiders have won the past two meetings, both played in the Victorian capital. Canberra boast a 2-1 record at AAMI Park although they have won just one other clash in Melbourne in their 14 other games down south.
Match Officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Phil Haines. Sideline Officials – Ricky MacFarlane & Adam Gee. Video Referees – Steve Clark & Matt Rodwell.
NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week, including the Storm v Raiders clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
Televised: Fox Sports – live, 5.30pm.
The Way We See It: There is no way to see it other than a Storm victory. The fact the Raiders have beaten them the past two times in Melbourne will just make the premiers more vigilant. Storm by 16 points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats