Preview: Raiders v Storm
Sunday 3pm (AEST)
[Delayed broadcast at 4pm on Nine]
My roommates must have thought I was mad. Never one to sit down with their fellow house-dweller to watch a game of rugby league, they had no idea why I was screaming when watching Melbourne take on St George-Illawarra last Monday night.
While some of the commotion had to do with the fact the unfancied Ben Roberts was overlooked for Man of the Match honours, it was mostly because the Storm somehow, with a potential try of the year contender, defeated the Dragons after the siren in what was an enormously scrappy Melbourne performance.
With the Storm heading several hundred kilometres north to Canberra on Easter Sunday, the Raiders will have to be careful that lightning doesn't strike twice at GIO Stadium. While the Storm did just enough to avoid racking up a three-game losing streak in Round 6, the Raiders will have very much the same motivation here off the back of consecutive losses to Penrith and Newcastle.
While Melbourne have held a distinct advantage over the Green Machine since the early 2000s, the Raiders have been good for an upset over their more fancied rivals in recent times, especially when you look back at the Raiders handing the Storm their first loss of the season in Round 8 last year. This game is not out of the Raiders' hands by any means - although they have lost their past six games in the nations' capital.
In a day that is to be jam-packed full of Easter activities, including Easter Egg giveaways, at GIO Stadium – Raiders fans can also be happy with the return of Joel Edwards in place of Jarrad Kennedy who is relegated to an extended bench. Melbourne remained unchanged, choosing to keep Roberts at five-eighth while Dayne Weston returns from suspension on an extended bench.
Watch Out Raiders: While last weekend the importance of the Raiders' indifferent edge defence was mentioned – this weekend it is an imperative. If anything the Raiders' edge defence went backwards with their efforts against Newcastle. Between their outside backs in Reece Robinson, Jarrad Croker, Matthew Allwood and Bill Tupou they missed 15 tackles. With Melbourne's right edge of Will Chambers and Young Tonumaipea, between them scoring three tries and producing three line-breaks last weekend, playing solidly (although Chambers isn't playing this weekend), the Raiders will have to get some steel about them if they're any hope of securing the two points.
Last weekend, Ricky Stuart was complaining about the ruck, the wrestle and some spoiling tactics from the Knights. While most coaches are of the belief that the game has become exponentially faster, Ricky drew comparisons from the state of the ruck from three years ago. If the Raiders' coach is scratching his head over the wrestle now, wait until his side take on the Storm – arguably the undisputed kings of the wrestle. It will take an immense amount of patience from both team and coach this weekend to nut out a win.
Watch Out Storm: The Storm have a left centre problem. They are severely missing Maurice Blair in 2014 – the now Titans centre missed only 27 tackles in 18 games last season. While Mahe Fonua was there for the opening month (missing nine tackles) in the position, Justin O'Neill has filled the gap in the past fortnight, missing two tackles and insufficiently tackling two others. With young Richard Kennar waiting in the wings the Storm centres will have to be very careful.
Plays To Watch: It's amazing to watch how much the Raiders rely on Jarrod Croker when it comes to try-scoring plays. This was punctuated early last weekend when on a sweeping play Terry Campese threw out a ball to stop-gap five-eighth Josh McCrone who then put Croker through for their first try of the afternoon.
Kevin Proctor has been a main beneficiary of Cooper Cronk's 'short or long' plays this season. While he was denied his third try of 2014 last weekend from another short pass from Cronk, Will Chambers cashed in when Cronk cut out Proctor with a long ball with a crucial try that kick-started the Storm's fight back towards victory.
Where It’ll Be Won: Patience is a virtue and it rings true for both sides here. While the Raiders will need to be patient when it comes to the nitty-gritty side of defence – the wrestle and the ruck – the Storm will need to be patient when it comes to capitalising on chances. Their first half last weekend was abysmal and the accrued errors were unacceptable.
The History: Played 33; Storm 24, Raiders 9. The Raiders won't want to remember the majority of their games against Melbourne. Since 2003, Canberra have only won four games against the Storm – including a 14-game losing streak. While they've won two of the past three games against their more-fancied opponents, the Raiders were absolutely rubbished when these two side's last met, going down 68-4 in Round 21 last year.
What Are The Odds: The Storm ($1.68) look a decent bet, but punters at Sportsbet.com.au are yet to jump, with not a lot of interest in this game so far.
Match Officials: Referees – Gerard Sutton and David Munro; Touch Judges –Steve Carrall and Clayton Sharpe; Video Referees – Luke Phillips and Matt Rodwell.
Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm (AEDT).
The Way We See It: The Raiders have been defeated twice in a row now and six times at home in recent times. The Storm, despite winning last week, will be looking to improve and build on their indifferent early season form. With the bigger names in the side, Melbourne may prove to be just that little bit too tough for the Raiders. Melbourne by 10 points.