In a week filled with 'games of the round'; this one is genuinely shaping as the game of the round. The 2nd placed Warriors (yes, you read that correctly) are playing the 5th placed Storm (yes, you also read THAT correctly) in a now traditional clash on ANZAC Day. What better way to celebrate ANZAC Day than to commemorate the efforts and sacrifices of servicepeople past and present in the morning before settling in for two wonderful games of Rugby League in the afternoon and evening. It doesn't get any better!
The Warriors have played above expectations, with many (this writer included) suggesting that their coach was a dead man walking and that they were a legitimate wooden spoon chance! Now, while it's too early to say 2018 is a roaring success from the blokes from across the Tasman; you'd still say they've comfortably exceeded expectations.
The Storm, on the other hand, appear to be warming to their task. After suffering consecutive losses and finding themselves outside the Top 8 for the first time in seasons, the Storm have flexed their considerable muscles with impressive victories over the Knights and the Broncos and will be confident heading into this encounter.
ANZAC Day 2017 - Storm won 20-14
10th March 2017 - Storm won 26-10
ANZAC Day 2016 - Storm won 42-0
20th March 2016 - Storm won 21-14
12th July 2015 - Warriors won 28-14
Such has been the dominance of the Storm in recent seasons, they hold an advantage over most teams in Head to Head stats; the Warriors are no different, with the Storm prevailing in their 4 most recent encounters. This is not necessarily a true indication of what is coming, though, as the Warriors have been a basket case for much of the last 5 years, and we can expect a much tighter contest this Wednesday.
|Melbourne Storm||New Zealand Warriors|
|1||Billy Slater||Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c)|
|2||Suliasi Vunivalu||David Fusitu'a|
|3||Will Chambers||Peta Hiku|
|4||Curtis Scott||Anthony Gelling|
|5||Josh Addo-Carr||Ken Maumalo|
|6||Cameron Munster||Blake Green|
|7||Ryley Jacks||Mason Lino|
|8||Tim Glasby||Bunty Afoa|
|9||Cameron Smith (c)||Isaac Luke|
|10||Nelson Asofa-Solomona||Agnatius Paasi|
|11||Felise Kaufusi||Simon Mannering|
|12||Ryan Hoffman||Isaiah Papali'i|
|13||Kenny Bromwich||Adam Blair|
|14||Brandon Smith||Jazz Tevaga|
|15||Christian Welch||Sam Lisone|
|16||Sam Kasiano||Albert Vete|
|17||Joe Stimson||Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad|
|18||Patrick Kaufusi||Ligi Sao|
|19||Tui Kamikamica||Joseph Vuna|
|20||Brodie Croft||Tevita Satae|
|21||Young Tonumaipea||Sam Cook|
The facts that matter
The reigning premiers look set to give Ryley Jacks another opportunity at halfback after a couple of solid outings in the past two matches, relegating Brodie Croft to the Easts Tigers in the Intrust Super Cup. The Storm like the control that Jacks offers; the predictability, the structure. Smith can work with that and so can Slater, who has stepped up to take more ownership of the team's attack when in good-ball. With Munster showing some particularly devastating form against the Broncos; the Storm's spine is in good shape.
However, their forward pack has taken a hit, with Jesse Bromwich out with a knee injury. To cover his loss, Queensland representative Tim Glasby has moved to the front row, with Kenny Bromwich starting at Lock and the impressive Joe Stimson recalled to the bench.
If the Storm are to prevail, they'll need their forward pack to hold their own, but they'll need a particularly robust defensive performance from their left-edge. Their task is made significantly easier by the absence of Tohu Harris and Shaun Johnson, but the Warriors' right-side combination of Hiku and Fusitu'a has been potent. For the Storm, Ryan Hoffman is aging and Munster misses plenty of tackles, so a lot of pressure will fall onto the shoulders of young Curtis Scott to make the correct defensive choices and if the Storm win, we're betting it'll be largely thanks to his efforts in defence.
New Zealand Warriors
In previous seasons, an injury to Shaun Johnson meant the Warriors had no chance. Yet, in 2018 he's been unavailable for two games and they've won both, against the Roosters and the Dragons no less, on the back of excellent efforts from Mason Lino. Those calling for Lino to play ahead of a fully fit Johnson are foolish and short-sighted, but what they don't see is that Lino and Blake Green firing keeps the pressure on Johnson to fire; which can only be good for the Warriors.
The injury to Tohu Harris has robbed us of one of the best match-ups of the year; Harris vs Hoffman. Hoffman was unceremoniously told by the Warriors he was no longer needed, with Harris chosen to replace him in 2018. Hoffman will feel he has a point to prove, but Harris has been one of the in-form back-rowers in the competition this season. His injury grants Papali'i an opportunity in the starting side where he impressed at the start of the season before succumbing to an injury of his own. With Kata still injured, Gelling keeps his spot in the centres after an impressive effort against the Dragons, while Nicoll-Klokstad has earned a bench position. We're not sure what purpose he has in Kearney's plans; perhaps he is just there as injury cover.
If the Warriors are to prevail, they have to beat the Storm up the middle and control the speed of the ruck. With the ball they must not run 'one out'; each runner must be supported by teammates to provide an option so that the Storm can't put multiple players into a tackle and control the speed of the play the ball. In defence, it's about making good contact and holding the player until help arrives to wrestle them slowly to the ground, making sure the tackled player is the last to his feet and ensuring that there are markers to nullify the influence of Cameron Smith.
Despite the excellent form of the Warriors, it's hard to go past the Storm after they've just hit form, particularly while the Warriors are missing Johnson and Harris. We expect this one to go right down to the wire, though, so make sure you tune in!
Can the Warriors keep up their good form, or will the Storm prove too good at home? Let us know in the comments and poll below.