In the second of the double headers to take place in Perth’s new stadium, we have the Bulldogs who will play “host” to the Storm, who will undoubtedly be on a mission to defend their title and achieve the near-improbable feat of winning back-to-back premierships. The Dogs will be on a mission of their own, and that is to return to the finals after missing out on last year’s finals campaign. Moreover, they will be looking to add more spark in attack, which was sorely lacking over the past few seasons.
For the Storm, whilst they yet again regain the services of the respected Ryan Hoffman, as well as adding the likes of Patrick Kafusi and Sam Kasiano among others to their ranks, they will be without some notable key players. A few of their key forwards such as Tohu Harris, Slade Griffin and Jordan McLean have found new homes, however the highest profile departure is that of long serving halfback, Cooper Cronk, who left for Sydney, where he found himself at the Roosters. It will undoubtedly be interesting to see how the Storm fare without the man who was very influential to their success over the past decade.
For the Doggies, they will merely be aiming to return to the top half of the table, after what was a frustrating 2017. They have a very good opportunity to do just that, with some vital purchases, such as Kieran Foran and Aaron Woods. Moreover, they have attained the services of club legend Dean Pay, who will undoubtedly be looking to instill the old “Dogs of War” mentality back into the squad, as they seek to be a force once again.
2017 - Rd 1 - Melbourne Storm 12 def. Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 6 at Belmore Oval.
2016 - Rd 6 - Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 18 def. Melbourne Storm 12 at AAMI Park.
2015 - Rd 16 - Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 20 def. Melbourne Storm 4 at Belmore Oval.
2014 - 2nd Elimination Final - Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 28 def. Melbourne Storm 4 at AAMI Park.
2014 - Rd 18 - Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 6 def. Melbourne Storm 4 at AAMI Park.
Interestingly enough, the Bulldogs are the only team to hold a positive head-to-head record against the Storm, winning 21 matches and losing 17. This is because of their last few encounters since their 2012 Grand Final, in which the Doggies only lost twice to the Storm. Those losses came in 2013 and the opening round of last season. In fact, the Bulldogs have had some convincing victories over the Storm since the 2012 decider, including a 39-0 shutout of the Storm in 2013.
This may be the case, however what really matters is what transpires on the field on Saturday evening, as prior history is not what decides the present match.
The Doggies may have endured a disappointing 2017, however they proved in their corresponding fixture last season that they are more than capable of mixing it with the best, as they restricted a very powerful Storm team to just 12 points. On the flip side, the Storm proved their superiority by overcoming a stubborn opponent, despite not being at their best.
|Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs||Melbourne Storm|
|1||Moses Mbye||Cameron Munster|
|2||Brett Morris||Suliasi Vunivalu|
|3||Josh Morris||Will Chambers|
|4||Will Hopoate||Curtis Scott|
|5||Marcelo Montoya||Josh Addo-Carr|
|6||Matt Frawley||Ryley Jacks|
|7||Kieran Foran||Brodie Croft|
|8||Aaron Woods||Jesse Bromwich|
|9||Michael Lichaa||Cameron Smith|
|10||David Klemmer||Nelson Asofa-Solomona|
|11||Josh Jackson||Felise Kaufusi|
|12||Raymond Faitala-Mariner||Ryan Hoffman|
|13||Danny Fualalo||Dale Finucane|
|14||Adam Elliott||Tim Glasby|
|15||Aiden Tolman||Kenneath Bromwich|
|16||Greg Eastwood||Christian Welch|
|17||Jeremy Marshall-King||Joe Stimson|
|18||Asipeli Fine||Young Tonumaipea|
|19||Kerrod Holland||Tui Kamikamica|
|20||Francis Tualau||Sam Kasiano|
|21||John Olive||Billy Walters|
The facts that matter
Statistically, the Bulldogs had the worst attack in the NRL in 2017, scoring only 360 points for the season. A further indictment on the Dogs’ profligacy in attack is the fact that the second worst attacking team in 2017, the Wests Tigers, were able to surpass the 400 point mark in attack, leaving the Dogs as the only team unable to do so. On the flip side, their defence was actually fairly sound in 2017, as they actually conceded fewer points than the likes of the Eels, Sea Eagles and Panthers, all of whom finished in the top 8. This means that if their attack had more potency about it, they could have actually finished in the 8.
Moreover, they demonstrated in the final 3 rounds what they are capable of in attack and defence, with three rather convincing victories. One player who was instrumental in these victories was the much-maligned hooker Michael Lichaa, who finally demonstrated to both the club and it’s supporters his dynamic game, which was why he was initially brought in as the replacement for the great Michael Ennis. Lichaa will undoubtedly be looking to repay the faith that the club had showed in him.
Much of the blame for the profligacy in attack was placed squarely on former coach Des Hasler, who saw his contract prematurely terminated. As such, with a new coach at the helm, there can be minimal excuses if the players demonstrate the same brand football as what they did over the past few seasons.
What can already be said about the Storm that hasn’t been stated already?! Last season, the men from the Victorian capital took all before them last season, convincingly taking out the minor premiership, and making their dominance count by resoundingly claiming the NRL premiership. They were coached brilliantly by supercoach Craig Bellamy, and led exquisitely by the evergreen Cameron Smith, who had his most dominant season of all time.
The Storm may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there is minimal doubt as to their level of quality, having been consistently dominant since Bellamy took the reins in 2013. Therefore, precisely what weaknesses does this Storm team have? Well there’s actually a few. They are that they are substantially better frontrunners than they are at playing from behind. As such, it’s imperative that their opponents score first and aim to establish a solid lead over them. History has shown that the Storm are not at their best when being forced to come back from trailing by 8 or more points.
Moreover, Cooper Cronk was very influential in helping ensure the Storm’s dominance over the past decade, along with Billy Slater and of course Cameron Smith. Now, for the first time since Bellamy’s first year, Cronk won’t be there to call the shots from the halfback position. However, he has a replacement in Brodie Croft, who proved his worth in the handful of top grade matches which he has played in, most notably in this year’s World Club Challenge.
Undoubtedly, both teams head into this opening round fixture with new look line-ups and, of course differing missions. One team will be looking to rediscover its glory days of yesteryear, with a brand new coach, wheareas the other team will be aiming to achieve consecutive premierships, a feat which has not been accomplished since the early 1990’s by the Broncos. However, they look about as well-placed as previous other defending premiers to successfully defend their crown, despite the notable absence of a key player.
The Bulldogs will no doubt be well aware of their recent dominance over the Storm and will be fired up as such to consolidate on this dominance. Moreover, their additions such as Aaron Woods and Kieran Foran will be looking to rip on for their new club, as each will feel they have their own points to prove. Moreover, the Dogs have undergone a pre-season hell-bent on erasing the disappointment of last season and there is no better test as to their current progress, than a match against the defending premiers.
There would have been even more emotion in this match had former Bulldog Sam Kasiano been named in the 17, however unfortunately that will not be the case. This means he has the misfortune of not being able to rip in to his former teammates.
For the Storm, they will want to get their title defence off to the best possible start, by defeating the Bulldogs, especially with the long-serving and influential Cooper Cronk no longer in their ranks. His replacement will inevitably be raring to take this opportunity with both hands, given this will be his first complete season.
Although the Doggies will be enraged by their poor season in 2017 and will be raring to unleash on the Storm, we expect that the defending premiers should just have too much quality for the Dogs, despite the absence of Billy Slater through injury and of course Cronk no longer calling the shots. Therefore, in what should be an entertaining battle, we predict the Storm to win by 4.