Schick Hydro Preview: Canberra Raiders v Melbourne Storm
The Canberra Raiders host the league-leading Melbourne Storm in a pivotal match to keep their finals dream alive.
Sitting in a four-way deadlock behind the ninth-placed Penrith Panthers, the Raiders are determined to claim back-to-back wins after escaping with an 18-14 victory in extra time over the St George-Illawarra Dragons on Friday.
Four points out of the top eight, Canberra had lost four straight matches before the breakthrough win.
Taking on the Storm will be a difficult task for the inconsistent Raiders side who hold a disappointing 7-10 record.
Melbourne have stamped themselves as the NRL benchmark this season atop the ladder.
With six of their players propelling Queensland to a classy series win, the Storm are focused on the final stretch of the season.
Why the Raiders can win: The Raiders are desperate to make up for a disappointing start to the season after plenty of pre-season hype. It wasn't the follow-up they were aiming for but they have time to keep their finals dream alive starting with a preliminary final rematch with the Storm. Canberra were last year's juggernaut before Melbourne held them off in a thrilling grand final qualifier. They will enjoy the home-ground advantage where they hold a 5-4 record and they also hold the league's fifth best attack with 372 points (22.9 points per game). However, it's their defence that has failed them. Canberra has the sixth worst defence in the NRL conceding 345 points for 20.3 points per game. Taking on the league leaders could be the exact motivation the talented Raiders need to kick-start their season. If they can score the upset win, it may be a launch-pad for their run home into the finals.
Why the Storm can win: Sitting nicely on top of the table, the Storm enjoyed a valuable bye round last week. It sets up their final assault on the home stretch of the season after celebrating six of their stars heavily featuring in Queensland's emphatic Game Three ambush of New South Wales. The Origin arena will serve as valuable experience and provide plenty of confidence for the Storm. If they carry that form into the club level, it's hard to see anyone beating Melbourne this season. While the Storm dropped their last game 22-6 against the Parramatta Eels, they hammered the Brisbane Broncos 42-12 the last time they had their full complement and put the rest of the competition on notice. While the Storm's leaders flourished on the representative scene, their youngsters enjoyed the first-grade opportunity that will serve them well through the home stretch of the season.
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Line Break Assists, Try Assists, Line Breaks, Total Kicks.
History: Raiders v Storm – Played 38, Raiders 11, Storm 27. History shows Melbourne have dominated their ACT rivals. The Storm have won three of their past four meetings including last year's Preliminary Final 14-12. The last time they met at GIO Stadium, the Raiders scored a convincing 22-8 win in Round 23 in 2016. However, in their past six matches in Canberra since 2011, Melbourne hold a strong 4-2 record.
What are the odds: Sportsbet has been struggling to take bets on Canberra, and 95 per cent of the money has been on Melbourne. The Storm have been strongly backed to win 13-plus and cover the line in handicap betting as well. Suliasi Vunivalu and Josh Addo-Carr have been backed to win a stack in the first try-scorer market. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Matt Cecchin, Chris Butler. Officials: Phil Henderson, Jeff Younis. Video Referees: Bryan Norrie, Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Fox League – Live coverage from 5.30pm (AEST).
How we see it: The Raiders will be determined to show they can match up with the Storm. Their chances of blowing the Storm out of the water is slim and if it comes down to the closing stages of the game, it's hard to go past Melbourne with their crafty leaders. The Storm are closing in on the finals and grand final redemption and this weekend is the start of their mission. Melbourne by 12.