Raiders v Storm
It’s been a rough month for Melbourne, who come into this clash on the back of three losses from their past four games and desperately needing a win to steady the ship.
It’s not the end of the world of course. Any side boasting the likes of Billy Slater, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk is bound to bounce back eventually. And they found themselves in a similar position last year when they dropped five in a row between Rounds 16-21 before winning their next eight games to claim the title.
But the Storm will be keen go turn the tide sooner rather than later.
It all makes for an intriguing clash on Sunday.
Canberra have had Melbourne’s measure of late, having won their past two encounters including a hugely impressive 24-20 win at AAMI Park in May. They are also riding a 12-game winning streak at Canberra Stadium dating back almost exactly 12 months.
With South Sydney waiting in the wings for Melbourne next weekend, that makes this trip to Canberra very much a must-win if they are to look to another premiership charge.
For the Raiders, this game also looms as a significant one as they look to cement their spot in the top eight.
Poised delicately in seventh spot on the Telstra Premiership ladder on 24 competition points, they will be acutely aware of the Knights and Warriors breathing down their neck – and the chasing pack just a few points further back.
They also face a nightmare run home with this week’s Storm clash followed by games against the Roosters, Bulldogs, Sea Eagles, Warriors and Sharks. With that in mind, every home game is vital.
There have been some good signs for Canberra of late. The decision by coach David Furner to move boom rookie Anthony Milford to fullback has worked wonders with his ability to conjure a decisive play. And with their backline starting to find form they certainly boast the strike power to trouble any side in the NRL.
These are the games that make a break a season and with both sides desperate for a win we should be in for some truly high-quality Sunday afternoon football.
Both sides have named identical sides to the 17 that took the field in their respective matches last week.
Only once have the Raiders defeated Melbourne twice in a season – way back in 2000. However, they have a great chance to do just that this week given that they have averaged 28.4 points per game in Sunday home fixtures over the past two seasons. They will be hard to beat if they equal that average here.
Watch Out Raiders: Young Canberra fullback Anthony Milford has taken on all-comers in 2013 but he has his work cut out for him this week against the best fullback in the game. Slater has again starred for the Storm this season, averaging 135 metres per game, scoring a team-high nine tries and producing 53 tackle-breaks.
Watch Out Storm: Blake Ferguson might not be back in the top grade yet, but with Josh Papalii patrolling the right edge there is still plenty for Melbourne to be worried about. The Queensland State of Origin debutante has been in devastating form this year, averaging 114 metres, making seven line breaks and adding 56 tackle-breaks from 15 appearances.
Plays To Watch: The Cooper Cronk inside ball remains a favourite of the Storm, with Billy Slater looming up inside looking to catch out some lazy defenders. The Storm showed their hand last week with a superbly crafted set play that they utilised in identical fashion on both sides of the field. From a scrum, they first executed a double second-man play to the left that resulted in a try to Justin O’Neill, then did exactly the same on the right with a play that should have resulted in a try as well but for a stray pass. No doubt they will look to a similar play if they have a scrum in the attacking zone this week.
Keep an eye on Anthony Milford taking the ball one-out early in the tackle count late in each half as he looks to put some footwork on one of Melbourne’s big men.
Key Match-Up: Josh Papalii v Ryan Hoffman. They went toe to toe in Origin and they will do so again this week. Papalii is a real weapon on Canberra’s right edge where his raw power and aggression make him extremely difficult to tackle. Hoffman, meanwhile, is a favourite target for his halves on the left and is a note try scorer in the back row.
Where It Will Be Won: On the edges, where both sides boast tremendous speed and skill. It’s never easy stopping the Smith-Slater-Cronk combo when they are in gear but the Raiders also boast some rising stars in those areas while captain Terry Campese provides a calming influence in the halves.
The History: Played 32; Storm 23, Raiders 9. Melbourne has defeated Canberra more times than any other opponent and has won 10 of their past 11 games at Canberra Stadium.
Match Officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Gavin Morris; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Brett Suttor; Video Referees – Jason Robinson & Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 2pm.
The Way We See It: This promises to be a cracking game and to be honest we’d be happy enough tossing a coin to determine who we’re going to go with. Traditionally we’ve erred on the side of the Storm most of the time because more often than not they are a safe bet, but we’re leaning towards Canberra this week. Their home form has been irresistible in 2013 and until Melbourne return to top form question marks remain over their title defence. Raiders by six points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats