Storm v Dragons: Late changes for Storm; Dragons 1-17
Cameron Smith is at an age (35) where he is supposed to be slowing down and losing motivation, but he just gets better with age and could conceivably play until he's 40 given his durability and lack of serious injuries throughout his storied career.
Seriously, the man just leaves you shaking your head. With the game on the line last week against the Roosters, he simply did what Cameron Smith does in crunch time, taking ownership of the game and winning it with a spectacular long-range field goal.
Given that he has a memory like an elephant, a Dragons side missing its Origin contingent will have to be at its very best on Thursday night in Melbourne. The Storm are also without a host of Origin stars, but the incomparable Smith will be there to make sure whoever lines up for Melbourne understands that it's payback time after the reigning premiers were humbled 34-14 by the Dragons in round nine.
The Dragons got out of jail last week against Parramatta and are under mounting pressure to hang on to top spot.
Match: Storm v Dragons
Round 17 -
Venue: AAMI Park
- Nine Network
- Fox League
- LIVE PASS
Key match-up: With so many rep players unavailable for both teams, let's go with the tactical battle between coaches Craig Bellamy and Paul McGregor. It has been suggested over the years that Bellamy wouldn't be known as one of the all-time great coaches if he didn't have Cameron Smith playing for him. On the flipside there are those who say Smith wouldn't be the player he is without Bellamy's influence. Regardless of which argument you support, you can bet your life McGregor wishes he had someone like Smith running the show for the Dragons. Mary's men came up trumps in the first meeting of 2018 and Bellamy will be hell-bent on squaring the ledger.
For the Storm to win: Last week's pressure-charged win over an in-form Roosters was just what the Storm needed to sharpen their focus for the run to the finals. The absence of so many Origin players will put the spotlight squarely on Smith to provide his usual leadership and poise, while the rest of the forward pack has to get a points decision over their rep-weakened Dragons counterparts.
For the Dragons to win: Englishmen James Graham and Gareth Widdop need to have big games. The uncompromising Graham will spearhead an under-strength pack and might have to play close to 80 minutes to ensure the Dragons have some authority and experience up front. If the forwards can hold their own it will allow Widdop to run the show at five-eighth and create space for the likes of Matt Dufty to cut loose.
Storm stat attack: The Storm are sitting pretty in the top four, but coach Craig Bellamy will be far from happy with the fact his side's 77 handling errors are the most by any team in the NRL.
Dragons stat attack: While three of the other NRL sides in the top five for possession rates aren't in the top eight on the ladder, the league-leading Dragons are making their 54 percent rate count. The 575 tackle breaks they have made is 33 clear of second best in the Telstra Premiership.
And another thing: A few rugby union types smugly pointed to the Storm's 9-8 defeat of the Roosters as a boring advertisement for rugby league and asked where all the tries were. While it's true the scoreboard didn't tick over, that possible grand final preview was no dour yawn-fest. Both teams attacked hard but were continually denied by strong defence. And anyone who reckons those final frantic minutes of failed field goal attempts and Cam Smith's match-winning kick were boring needs to check their pulse.
Melbourne Storm v St George Illawarra Dragons, Thursday 7.50pm at AAMI Park
Storm: 7 Jahrome Hughes, 2 Suliasi Vunivalu, 3 Cheyse Blair, 4 Curtis Scott, 1 Young Tonumaipea, 6 Ryley Jacks, 17 Brodie Croft, 8 Christian Welch, 9 Cameron Smith (c), 10 Nelson Asofa-Solomona, 11 Joe Stimson, 12 Ryan Hoffman, 13 Kenny Bromwich
Interchange: 14 Brandon Smith, 15 Tui Kamikamica, 16 Patrick Kaufusi, 20 Albert Vete
In a host of changes made an hour before kick-off, Jahrome Hughes moves from halfback to fullback, Young Tonumaipea goes from fullback to the wing, Justin Olam is out and Brodie Croft switches from the interchange bench to start at halfback in jersey No.17. Billy Slater, Will Chambers, Cameron Munster, Felise Kaufusi, Tim Glasby and Josh Addo-Carr are away on Origin duty. After Scott Drinkwater and Sandor Earl were left out of the squad 24 hours out from kick-off, Olam and Lachlan Timm were omitted an hour before game time.
Dragons: 1 Matt Dufty, 2 Nene Macdonald, 3 Euan Aitken, 4 Tim Lafai, 5 Kurt Mann, 6 Gareth Widdop (c), 7 Darren Nicholls, 8 James Graham, 9 Cameron McInnes, 10 Leeson Ah Mau, 11 Jacob Host, 12 Luciano Leilua, 13 Blake Lawrie
Interchange: 14 Jeremy Latimore, 15 Jason Nightingale, 16 Hame Sele, 17 Reece Robson
The Dragons will start 1-17, with Patrick Herbert and Jai Field the last two men dropped from the bench. With Ben Hunt, Tyson Frizell, Jack De Belin, Paul Vaughan and Tariq Sims missing on Origin duty, the Dragons have named 29-year-old debutant Darren Nicholls at halfback plus a new starting back row of Jacob Host, Luciano Leilua and lock Blake Lawrie while Leeson Ah Mau returns at prop for Paul Vaughan. Hame Sele and Reece Robson are the new names on the bench. Jordan Pereira and Mitchell Allgood were omitted 24 hours out from kick-off.
Head-to-head: Played 35; Storm 24 wins, Dragons 10 wins, 1 draw
Previous result: Dragons won 34-14 at Jubilee Oval in round 9
Points per game: Storm 22.3; Dragons 24.7
Points conceded per game: Storm 14.9; Dragons 15.6
Televised: Live on Nine, Fox League