Schick Hydro Preview: Canberra Raiders v Melbourne Storm
All eyes will be on GIO Stadium on Monday night as two of the form teams of the competition go head-to-head.
The Canberra Raiders will host the Melbourne Storm in a mouth-watering match-up with both sides on six-game winning streak heading into Round 23.
The Raiders are coming off one of the results of the season, defeating the Cronulla Sharks 30-14 in what was the Sharks' first loss since Round 3.
Canberra smashed the Rabbitohs in the week prior and have rocketed themselves up to third place on the NRL Telstra Premiership ladder, and now look set for a top-four spot barring a huge form slump.
If there's any team that could compete with the Raiders right now it's the Storm, who hold a one-point lead at the top of the table following their dramatic golden point win against Souths last Saturday.
Cameron Smith was the hero with a last-second penalty goal in regulation time followed by the match-winning field goal, but the Storm will need to step it up a gear if they're to match the Raiders on Monday night.
Watch out Raiders: Canberra may be in red-hot form but they're coming up against a team that's been there at the business end of the season for the past few years. The Storm have been one of the NRL's teams to beat for years now, and it's no secret they know how to win the important games. Melbourne have been involved in four games this season where the margin has been two points or less, and they've won all four. With Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk at the forefront of this team they've got the experience to get out of any scenario, which probably puts the Storm in pole position should this game go down to the wire.
Watch out Storm: The league's best defence will come up against the NRL's best attack on Monday night, and what a potent attack it is. Jarrod Croker and Jordan Rapana have 15 tries apiece this season, putting the pair of them at equal third on the NRL try-scorers list, while the halves pairing of Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer have 12 tries between them. The Raiders have scored 26 or more points in each of their last six wins, and will be one of the toughest tests the Storm backline has faced all season, so Melbourne will need to be at their best to keep them down to a beatable score.
Key match-up: Josh Hodgson v Cameron Smith. These two have been in fantastic form all season, with both near the top of the Dally M leaderboard before votes went behind closed doors. Hodgson masterminded Canberra's brilliant win over Cronulla last weekend, and has been at the forefront of most of the Raiders' victories all season. Smith has continued to be one of the best players in the game, and has almost taken his game up another level this season. Smith's final five minutes against the Rabbitohs last week were perfect, and these two should put on one of the battles of the season between number 9s.
The history: Played 36; Raiders 10, Storm 26. Despite the overall head-to-head record looking one-sided in Melbourne's favour, the past six meetings between these teams have been evenly split. These sides haven't met yet this season and only met once in 2015, with the Storm pinching a 14-10 win in Canberra.
What are the odds: Sportsbet punters are very keen on the Raiders causing an upset here, and their price has been firming as the week has gone on. There has actually been three times as much money staked on Canberra compared to Melbourne in the head-to-head market. Latest odds at Sportsbet.
Match officials: Referee: Matt Cecchin. Assistant Referee: Chris Sutton. Tough Judges: Tim Roby, Phil Henderson. Review Officials: Luke Patten, Steve Chiddy. Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live coverage from 6.30pm (AEST)
How we see it: Home ground advantage is a big factor for the Raiders on what will be a cold winters night in Canberra, but the Storm have won in rain, hail or shine this season and won't be put off by the conditions. Confidence is a big thing in football and the Raiders have been the league's best side over the past six weeks, so that may be just enough to see them continue on their winnings ways. Raiders by 4.