Roosters v Storm
There is more than a little irony to the timing of this clash as the Melbourne Storm and their trio of Queensland stars travel to Sydney to square off against a Roosters outfit boasting NSW certainties Mitchell Pearce and Michael Jennings and hopeful James Maloney.
In what essentially stands as a preview to the State of Origin opener on June 6 – with the sides set to be picked this Sunday night – Pearce and co. will no doubt see this as an opportunity to make a statement on behalf of their Blues teammates.
Of course, it’s not that simple. After all, the Kiwi influence in this Roosters squad is just as evident as any NSW bias, but the side story persists. Few have been as impressive as the Roosters in 2013. Buoyed by the arrival of Maloney, Jennings, Sonny Bill Williams and Luke O’Donnell, they have developed into a genuine premiership threat with a defensive attitude reminiscent of the great Manly sides of the mid-1990s.
In 10 games this season they have conceded just 94 points while over the course of their current five-match winning streak they have conceded 28 points at an incredibly miserly 5.6 points per game.
They have also won five home games on the trot, conceding just a single second-half try in that time.
Among their victims in that period, they kept last year’s minor premiers Canterbury scoreless, 2011 premiers Manly to just four points and North Queensland to eight points last week in Townsville.
The counter to that would typically be that if any side can crack a well-organised defensive line it is the Melbourne Storm, but after a blistering start to the 2013 season some cracks have started to appear in their usually smooth façade. Consecutive losses to Canberra and Penrith came as a surprise to everyone and despite enjoying a dominant 55 per cent possession on Monday night they were lucky to escape with a 10-all draw against Manly.
Whether it be a bit of fatigue creeping in or simply the sort of dip in form that happens from time to time, the Storm have been well below their best of late and they will need to find answers quickly if they are going to put a dint in the Roosters’ fortress.
This is also a crucial game for Melbourne for other reasons given that the Origin period has typically been a tough one for them to come through unscathed. Now third on the ladder behind both the Roosters and Bunnies, they won’t want to fall too far behind before the run to the finals begins in earnest: it’s no secret just how big an advantage a top-two finish is in the NRL.
Roosters coach Trent Robinson has named the same side that downed North Queensland last week, while the Storm have also named the same 17 as last week with Slade Griffin named 18th man.
In milestones news Storm fullback Billy Slater surpassed 3000 career runs and 30,000 run metres last week and is now just three tackle-breaks away from becoming the first player in history to notch 1000 in his career.
Watch Out Roosters: Melbourne’s back three play a huge role in their success and are among the best in the business at helping out their big men. That has been no different in 2013 with Billy Slater (142), Mahe Fonua (122) and Sisa Waqa (117) all averaging over 100 metres per game as well as combining for 69 tackle-breaks and 15 tries.
Watch Out Storm: Melbourne’s defence will have to be up for the challenge this week because no side challenges the line quite like the Roosters. Trent Robinson’s men have made more line-breaks than any other side in 2013 and although they love to attack down the left edge where Michael Jennings has broken the line nine times, they can be just as lethal on the right with impressive young winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck also contributing nine line-breaks. Five-eighth James Maloney is another threat with six line-breaks to his name.
Plays To Watch: The Sonny Bill Williams cut-out pass – a play that he isn’t exactly renowned for but has enjoyed quite a bit of success with in 2013.
Williams’ size and ability to offload is a tremendous asset for the Roosters – not only because of his ability to push through the tackle and create second-phase play but also because the defence knows it. Their reaction is often to get numbers into the tackle when Williams receives the ball on the Roosters’ left edge… which in turn drags the winger in to cover – on three occasions this season Williams has capitalised by throwing a long ball to Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to score in the corner.
Where It Will Be Won: In the key positions. Despite having failed to win any of their past three games, the Storm has defended quite well – conceding just 22 points in their past two outings. But their attack needs work.
At their best the Storm are relentless with the ball in hand – attacking their opponents in waves and invariably breaking them down sooner rather than later. Given that Roosters halves Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney have been some impressive this season and the side’s defence so strong, Melbourne’s big names must fire now if they are to come away with the two points.
The History: Played 24; Storm 13, Roosters 11. The Storm have won five of the past nine clashes. Significantly, the past seven games between the sides have been decided by 10 or more points.
Match Officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Ashley Klein; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Steve Carrall; Video Referees – Steve Clark & Henry Perenara.
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 Roosters v Storm clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 7.30pm.
The Way We See It: For many years now tipsters have known that they can’t go too far wrong tipping the Melbourne Storm, but could the times be changing? The irresistible form of the Sydney Roosters (not to mention South Sydney) over the opening 10 rounds has sent an ominous warning to Melbourne’s dominance of the NRL and with the Storm slipping away a fraction these past few weeks they head into Round 11 in the unusual position of being underdogs. On current form, the Roosters are simply defending too well to succumb this week. Roosters by 10 points.