Storm v Warriors: Vunivalu injured; Johnson out again
After having their five-game winning streak broken by the Broncos in round six, the Warriors did some streak-snapping of their own with last week's defeat of the previously unbeaten Dragons. The fact they managed to win without Shaun Johnson and Solomone Kata only made their performance even more impressive.
The Storm will the annual Anzac Day showdown feeling confident, having won won the previous two clashes 20-14 (2017) and 42-0 (2016).
Melbourne seem to be finding form after a so-so start to the season, winning their past two games against Newcastle and Brisbane in style. Billy Slater is in form, while Cam Munster continues to emerge as one of the NRL's best young players.
The Warriors out-hustled the Dragons last week but they won't be able to sneak up on the reigning premiers.
Match: Storm vs Warriors
Venue: AAMI Park
- Fox League
- LIVE PASS
Melbourne Storm v New Zealand Warriors, 7pm Wednesday at AAMI Park
Key match-up: Issac Luke was one of the NRL's leading hookers during the nine years he was with Souths. He seemed to lose some of his enthusiasm and love for the game in his first two years with the Warriors, but the man nicknamed 'Bully' has rediscovered the passion and confidence that make him such a fun player to watch. Luke stole the show with an outstanding performance in his team's defeat of the Dragons and will give his side a good chance of conquering Melbourne if he can out-play the brilliant Cameron Smith.
For the Warriors to win: Simplistic as it seems, the Warriors need a well prepared game plan they believe in and they also need the discipline to stick with it for 80 minutes. They got it right last week against the Dragons and will need an equally committed effort against the defending champs.
For the Storm to win: It takes a lot to intimidate the Storm and even then it doesn't guarantee a victory. If Smith ensures his teammates are ready for the Warriors' early onslaught, the Storm should be too clever and classy over the 80 minutes, especially with Munster in such sparkling form.
Warriors stat attack: Winger David Fusitu'a is the NRL's leading try-scorer (8). The Warriors have racked up the most offloads of any team (105) but also the most missed tackles (269). They have four 40/20 kicks as a team - three more than their nearest rivals.
Storm stat attack: It may come as a surprise that Melbourne have more handling errors (34) than any other team. Most of those occurred in the first month or so when the Storm were struggling. Coach Craig Bellamy would be happy his team reduced their error rate in the past two games.
And another thing: There's nothing like an Anzac Day game to stir up feelings of national pride and respect for those who fought for our freedom long before most of us were born. No matter how many times you hear The Last Post this week, take a moment to listen and think.
Head-to-head: Played 40; Storm 22 wins, Warriors 16 wins, 2 draw
Matches at venue: Played 8; Storm 5 wins, Warriors 3 wins
2017 results: Storm won 26-10 at Mt Smart Stadium in round 2 and 20-14 at AAMI Park in round 8
Points per game: Storm 23.1; Warriors 23.1
Points conceded per game: Storm 14.4; Warriors
Televised: Live on Fox League
Storm: 1 Billy Slater, 21 Young Tonumaipea, 3 Will Chambers, 4 Curtis Scott, 5 Josh Addo-Carr, 6 Cameron Munster, 7 Ryley Jacks, 8 Tim Glasby, 9 Cameron Smith (c), 10 Nelson Asofa-Solomona, 11 Felise Kaufusi, 12 Ryan Hoffman, 15 Christian Welch
Interchange: 13 Kenny Bromwich, 14 Brandon Smith, 16 Sam Kasiano, 17 Joe Stimson
Young Tonumaipea is a late inclusion for Suliasi Vunivalu and Christian Welch will start the match with Kenny Bromwich dropping back to the bench. Patrick Kaufusi and Brodie Croft were the last two to drop off the interchange bench. Jesse Bromwich (knee) is out with Tim Glasby moving to prop, Kenny Bromwich starting at lock and Joe Stimson joining the interchange.
Warriors: 1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c), 2 David Fusitu'a, 3 Peta Hiku, 17 Anthony Gelling, 5 Ken Maumalo, 6 Blake Green, 7 Mason Lino, 8 Bunty Afoa, 9 Issac Luke, 10 Agnatius Paasi, 11 Simon Mannering, 12 Isaiah Papali'i, 13 Adam Blair
Interchange: 14 Jazz Tevaga, 15 Sam Lisone, 16 Albert Vete, 20 Tevita Satae
Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Joseph Vuna were dropped from the bench an hour before kick-off. Tohu Harris (concussion) joins Shaun Johnson (groin) on the sidelines, with Isaiah Papali'i replacing Harris in the second row.
Steve Turner's prediction: This will be the game of the round. Both teams head into this Anzac Day clash in good form. Melbourne have started to show signs of 2017, while the Warriors' defensive efforts in 2018 prove they are the real deal. It's so hard to split them but you can't go past Melbourne in Melbourne on Anzac Day, plus the fact they've won their past four matches against the Warriors. Storm by 4.