Friday evening will feature the reigning premiers, the Storm, as they prepare to host the vastly improved Knights. Although the season is still relatively young, the ladder positions of the two teams is a surprise to just about everyone.
The Storm are coming off two consecutive losses, in which the most recent loss came against the Wests Tigers for the second time this season,to the tune of 11-10. This loss came after they were toppled by the Sharks in the Good Friday evening match. Therefore, with their three losses thus far, the reigning premiers find themselves in 9th position, with two victories and three defeats.
Conversely, the Knights are coming off an impressive 15-10 victory over the Broncos in front of their vociferous supporters. Their win saw them bounce back after consecutive losses to the Roosters and Dragons. Their victory over the Broncos demonstrated their newfound ability to display a steely resolve in defence. Moreover, their attacking potency has improved out of sight. As such, their three victories have placed them in 7th spot.
This match will be a test for both sides. For the Storm, they are in very unfamiliar territory with two consecutive losses, and will be out to avoid an unwanted hat trick of losses. For the Knights, they will be aiming to claim another major scalp in the reigning premiers.
2017 - Round 24 - Melbourne Storm 44 def. Newcastle Knights 12 at McDonald Jones Stadium.
2017 - Round 13 - Melbourne Storm 40 def. Newcastle Knights 12 at AAMI Park.
2016 - Round 19 - Melbourne Storm 20 def. Newcastle Knights 16 at McDonald Jones Stadium.
2016 - Round 5 - Melbourne Storm 18 def. Newcastle Knights 14 at AAMI Park.
2015 - Round 24 - Newcastle Knights 20 def. Melbourne Storm 6 at AAMI Park.
The Storm have had the wood over the Knights in their five most recent meetings, with the Knights lone victory in that time occurring in 2015, in what was very much a surprise result. In fact, the Knights, after being the Storm’s bogey side between 1999 and 2003, have been largely dominated by the men from the Victorian capital. As such, in all their 38 encounters, 23 of these victories have gone the way of the Storm, with the other 15 wins going the way of the Novocastrians.
|Melbourne Storm||Newcastle Knights|
|1||Billy Slater||Kalyn Ponga|
|2||Suliasi Vunivalu||Shaun Kenny-Dowall|
|3||Young Tonumaipea||Sione Mata'utia|
|4||Curtis Scott||Nathan Ross|
|5||Josh Addo-Carr||Ken Sio|
|6||Cameron Munster||Brock Lamb|
|7||Ryley Jacks||Mitchell Pearce|
|8||Jesse Bromwich||Daniel Saifiti|
|9||Cameron Smith||Slade Griffin|
|10||Nelson Asofa-Solomona||Jacob Lillyman|
|11||Felise Kaufusi||Lachlan Fitzgibbon|
|12||Ryan Hoffman||Aidan Guerra|
|13||Kenny Bromwich||Herman Ese'ese|
|14||Joe Stimson||Danny Levi|
|15||Tim Glasby||Chris Heighington|
|16||Christian Welch||Jamie Buhrer|
|17||Sam Kasiano||Jacob Saifiti|
|18||Brandon Smith||Luke Yates|
|21/19||Justin Olam||Josh King|
The facts that matter
When one considers the phenomenal season in which the Storm had last year, coupled with the fact that champion players Cameron Smith and Billy Slater are still there, it comes as a major surprise that the Storm find themselves in the position they are in. This is despite the off-season departure of stalwart Cooper Cronk.
Although Cronk’s replacement, Brodie Croft, is still very young, his poor form has proven costly this season, as he was one of the main culprits in their losses. As such, Storm coach Craig Bellamy has demoted Croft, in favour of another youngster in Canadian representative Ryley Jacks. This means that Croft will not be able to replicate his performance in the corresponding fixture last season, in which he carved up the Knights.
Although the premiers’ defence is still rather sound, it is their profligacy in attack that will be of concern for them. Whilst they have managed to score 30or more points in their two victories, they have struggled to score more than 10 in their defeats. This shows that the absence of Cronk is beginning to bite earlier than anyone expected.
The Novocastrians have completely improved out of sight, as demonstrated in their victories over the Sea Eagles, Raiders and Broncos. Although the the form of the aforementioned teams is relatively poor, it should take nothing away from the Knights own form, as they have demonstrated a never-say-die attitude thus far.
This can be largely attributed to the astute purchases in the off-season. Young fullback Kalyn Ponga has proved to be vital to their attack, as well as in the goalkicking department, while halfback and captain Mitchell Pearce has proven his worth as a leader for his new club.
Unfortunately however, their points differential is -40, which is the result of their losses to the Roosters and Dragons. As such, despite their newfound steel, there is definitely still room for improvement, particularly in defence. It is also their form away from home which they will want to put right, given they have only won twice away from the Hunter Valley since 2015. As such they have the perfect opportunity to improve on this, when they travel south of the border to tackle the struggling premiers.
This match is bound to be an entertaining one, which could very well end up going down to the wire. However, regardless of the fact that the Storm are staring down the barrel of a third consecutive loss, and the Knights are no longer the pushovers which they were known for, it’s rather difficult to see the a Storm side, containing the likes of Smith and Slater, slumping to yet another loss. There is enough personnel within their ranks to prevent this from happening, coupled by likelihood of an almighty blast from Bellamy to get their act together. Moreover, the Knights’ rather dismal away form since 2015 is just too difficult to overlook. As such, I’m tipping the premiers to arrest their losing streak. Storm by 8.
Can the Knights grab an upset win over the Storm or will the home side be too strong? Let us know in the comments and poll below.