Storm v Raiders: Schick Preview
Schick Hydro Preview: Melbourne Storm v Canberra Raiders
80 minutes. That's all that separates the Melbourne Storm and the Canberra Raiders from a spot in the 2016 NRL Grand Final.
These sides were the two best teams after 26 Rounds this season, but only one will be playing for the chance to lift the Provan-Summons trophy next Sunday night.
Melbourne enjoyed a week off last week after defeating the Cowboys 16-10 in the qualifying final.
The rest was an important one for the Storm given that lock Dale Finucane wouldn't have played last weekend considering he's only now just getting over an ankle injury.
Despite going down at home in the qualifying final to Cronulla, Canberra bounced back quickly to record a 22-12 win over Penrith in the semi-final to book their spot in the final four.
The Raiders have won 11 of their past 12 matches and have been in almost unstoppable form since that run began.
They enter this game with the same 17 from last weekend, although the Storm have made one change.
Nelson Asofa-Solomona will miss the rest of the season with an elbow injury in a massive blow for Melbourne, with Christian Welch, Felise Kaufusi and Matt White all brought in to fight it out for the remaining interchange spot.
Watch out Storm: There aren't many vulnerable chinks in the Storm's armour, but if you had to find one it would be in their outside backs. The combinations Melbourne have out wide aren't all that susceptible, although if anyone can exploit their weaknesses it's this week's opponents. The duo known as 'Leipana' has been sensational this season on Canberra's right edge, with Joey Leilua and Jordan Rapana unstoppable in recent weeks. The pair have scored 33 tries between them, and Leilua offloads the ball the most out of any player in the NRL Finals Series, while Rapana leads the league in line breaks. Melbourne will have plenty to deal with on Saturday night all over the park, but it's these two they need to work about the most.
Watch out Raiders: It's not too often that a milestone match falls on such a big game and considering what's at stake for both the player and the team, this may be the biggest milestone game in Storm history. Cooper Cronk will take the field for the 300th time on Saturday night and is only the second Melbourne player to do so, and will play alongside the other in Cameron Smith. Cronk, along with his captain, has been the heartbeat of this team for years now and if his teammates needed any more motivation, they've found it.
Key match-up: Cameron Smith v Josh Hodgson. There's no doubting these two have been the two best hookers of the season, and this Saturday's match-up is set up to be a mouth-watering contest. Hodgson led the team against Penrith after a massive injury scare the weekend before, while Smith was instrumental in Melbourne's win over North Queensland two weeks ago. With so many great players on both sides it's hard to know exactly which players will dictate the contest, but these two masterminds will definitely have a big say on the result come Saturday night.
The history: Played 37; Storm 26, Raiders 11. Despite the Storm have a much better overall record, the past six meetings between these sides have been evenly split. Only one of those fixtures will be on the minds of these players though, as Canberra beat Melbourne 22-8 in Round 23 just six weeks ago.
What are the odds: Sportsbet punters have placed one-third more money on Melbourne in the head-to-head market, however the most popular winning margin is Canberra 1-12 so punters who are backing the Raiders can only see them getting home in a tight one. Suliasi Vunivalu is holding twice the money as teammate Marika Koroibete in the first tryscorer market. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referee: Matt Cecchin. Assistant Referee: Alan Shortall. Touch Judges: Michael Wise, Jeff Younis. Review Officials: Ben Galea, Ashley Klein. Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live coverage from 7.00pm. Fox Sports – Live coverage from 7.00pm.
How we see it: One win is all that stands between both of these sides and a grand final, and there's no doubt we're going to see some entertaining, pulsating and at times, desperate football on Saturday night. Canberra will take confidence from the bruising they handed the Storm just six weeks ago, but on their home turf and after a week off, it's hard to look past Melbourne to find a way to get this win. Storm by 6.