Manly Sea Eagles v Melbourne Storm
Does form really matter when two fierce rivals collide? Is there such a thing as 'form' after Round 1?
On Saturday night these two teams will add another chapter to their thrilling saga and if recent history is anything to go by you’d best prepare the heart rate to rise and finger nails to shorten.
Many and Melbourne were separated by a combined margin of just four points from their two meetings last season. The Sea Eagles suffered back-to-back heart-breaking losses to the Storm in 2014. First it was a dramatic comeback and a Cam Smith field goal at Brookvale Oval that broke Manly hearts and then later in the season, it was two tries in the final 10 minutes at Melbourne that sealed another dramatic chapter in this decade long rivalry.
Add to this a draw in 2013 and all signs point to this next instalment being a weekend thriller.
If you doubted the notion that bad things happen in threes Friday night would have proved otherwise. Geoff Toovey’s pre-season preparations were blown out of the water as the Eels piled on 32 unanswered points to hand his side a humbling 42-12 defeat while youngster Clint Gutherson suffered a season-ending ACL injury and Daly Cherry-Evans capped a dismal night by informing the club that this season would be his last as a Sea Eagle.
While it wasn’t a pretty start to the Telstra Premiership for Melbourne, Craig Bellamy will be happy that it was at least a winning one. Thanks largely to some resolute defending, his side was able to overcome 10 errors and a completion rate of just 70% to run out 12-4 winners over the Dragons.
While a knee injury kept Kieran Foran out of the last meeting between these two sides, it is a hamstring that sees him replaced by Jack Littlejohn this time around and veteran Steve Matai is named to return from off-season shoulder surgery in place of the unlucky Gutherson.
Storm have named an unchanged side but that is set to change with rookie Felise Kaufusi charged with a grade 2 dangerous contact by the NRL Match Review Committee and can serve one game with an early plea. Jesse Bromwich looks likely to escape suspension from a high tackle if he accepts his grade 1 charge. Other than that Melbourne, along with the Cowboys, are the only teams to head into Round 2 with a clean bill of health.
Watch out Sea Eagles: Despite having 54% of possession against Parramatta, the Sea Eagles could only manage 1159 metres, the second fewest of any team in Round 1. Their inability to generate quality yardage saw them go scoreless in the second half as the Eels went in for the kill. Melbourne recorded 471 more metres in their win over St-George despite controlling the football for just 43% of the game. If Manly want to stand a chance they must push the ball deep in the Storm half and keep the ever-dangerous Big Three as far from try-scoring territory as possible.
Watch out Storm: The Storm received plenty of plaudits for their defence on Monday night but the effort would’ve seen them spend plenty of petrol tickets in the process. The men in purple laid 407 tackles, the most of any side for the round. This included an opening 35 minutes that saw them make 33 tackles inside their own 20 metres. There was barely a respite as they had less than 40% of possession for much of the 80 minutes. With just a four-day break between back-to-back road games you have to wonder if Melbourne will be 100% fit come game time. With an extra three days rest up their sleeve, if the Sea Eagles can be close at halftime their fresher legs could very well prove the difference.
Key Match-Up: While Cherry-Evans will receive an intriguing reception from the home crowd, he will have a much bigger fish to fry when you consider the quality of his opposing number. Cooper Cronk ranked third for try-assists in the NRL last season and it took just four minutes to open his tally in 2015. This match-up will provide another chance draw a direct comparison between the two talented Queensland halfbacks. With Foran injured the home side will be leaning even more heavily on the creative shoulders of Cherry-Evans, making his performance against the man who has largely kept him out of a Kangaroos and Maroons jersey all the more important.
The History: Played 27; Sea Eagles 11, Storm 15, Drawn 1. Manly have won just one of their past six games against the Storm who will be out to make it three wins from four trips to Brooky.
What Are The Odds: Sea Eagles $2.02, Storm $1.80. Last weeks results see Melbourne pushed into favouritism with punters placing five times the money their way. Lattest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Lead Referee: Jared Maxwell. Assistant Referee: Chris Sutton. Touch Judges: Nick Beashel and Brett Suttor. Video Referees: Steve Chiddy and Luke Patten. Standby: Adam Cassidy.
Televised: Channel Nine, Live, 7.30pm.
The Way We See It: Round 1 form can be a dangerous to base a tip on and the Storm will be racing the recovery clock after a short week. That being said their trademark defence looks to be back after a 12-month hiatus and a Foran-less Sea Eagles will leave the home side even less potent in attack. Storm to start strong and hold on to win by two points.