When the draw is released at the start of the year there are certain games that rugby league fans look to circle in their calendar. When the Warriors make the trip across the Tasman to Melbourne town for the Anzac Day clash the contest is usually a sellout, electric in atmosphere and the football hard-nosed and enthralling.
While both teams will head into Friday night’s game with form well below their best, the desperation to get their seasons back on track should make for compelling viewing.
It was a nightmare final 30 minutes for the Storm last week in Canberra that included a knock-on, hold-up and disallowed try on the Raiders’ line, as well as conceding two tries in rather simple fashion to lose the match. Given its current 4-3 record with a tricky Origin period on the horizon, Melbourne cannot afford any more slip-ups.
Things are not much better for the Warriors, who last week slumped to three straight defeats in their 20-10 loss against the Dragons. Again, defence was the New Zealand side’s achilles heel. A major pitfall in their game that has seen them concede an average of 26 points per match in the past three weeks – a major reason why they currently sit in 15th position on the NRL ladder.
However if the Warriors can garner any confidence it is in their admirable record in Melbourne, which boasts two wins from their past four visits, including that memorable preliminary final upset in 2011.
The Warriors bring back Chad Townsend to replace Thomas Leuluai (groin) while also naming Jayson Bukuya in the second row, despite him being a late withdrawal in the past two games due to a foot complaint. Feleti Mateo has also been named on the interchange. Craig Bellamy has named an extended bench as Ben Hampton returns to five-eighth to replace the injured Ben Roberts (knee).
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Holes in the Storm defence have been a problem that coach Craig Bellamy and his assistants are yet to solve. Last week the Raiders targeted Melbourne down the left and it paid dividends as they crossed for three of their four tries via this route. As good as Storm left winger Young Tonumaipea has been with the ball (ranked third at the club for metres) it is clear opposition sides are looking to target the 21-year-old in his own half. This week he will surely be tested yet again, with Manu Vatuvei (five tries this season) set to be his opposing number, a veteran 170 games his senior.
Watch Out Warriors: Storm fullback Billy Slater showed signs he was back to his best last week after a slow start to the year. Slater recorded 232m against the Raiders, 78m more than any player on the ground and significantly higher than his 123.5m average per game in 2014. That stat will be worrying for the Warriors and music to purple ears, as the Maroons star looks to be reaching full fitness after a virtually non-existent pre season due to knee surgery in the summer.
No team has conceded more points this season than the Warriors (179). Defensive frailties have been an issue for the Warriors for a few seasons now. In 2012 and 2013, New Zealand ranked third and fourth for points against and given the Storm have such a potent attack (third most points scored in the NRL) it is a trend the visitors must overcome on Friday night.
Where It Will be Won: Completing sets. As it currently stands, these two teams have the worst defences in the NRL, having conceded the most points of any sides to date. So how do you take the pressure of yourself defensively? Keep the ball!
This has proved troublesome though. In the last two games the Storm have completed a total of 20 errors, while the Warriors have recorded a completion rate of just 68 per cent. The side that can overcome its fumbles and keep its error count low should bank a much-needed two points.
The History: Played 33; Storm 17, Warriors 14, drawn 2. Second to the Bulldogs, the Warriors have more wins against the Storm that any other NRL side and have won in two of their past four trips to Melbourne.
What Are The Odds: Business as usual with this one, with all of the early money at Sportsbet.com.au coming for the Storm at $1.34. But punters think the Warriors can get within the line of 9.5, with plenty of money coming for it.
Match Officials: Referee – Ashley Klein; Assistant Referee – Adam Gee; Sideline Officials – Jason Walsh & Chris Sutton; Video Referees – Jared Maxwell & Andrew Dunemann.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 6pm (AEST).
The Way We See It: We keep thinking they will come good but three out of the past four weeks they have let us down. Though given the disappointing season the Warriors have had and the fact they finally come up against a defence that is worse than theirs, the Storm will get the chocolates. Storm by 10 points.