Melbourne Storm vs North Queensland Cowboys: Lineups, preview & prediction
AAMI Park, Thursday 22nd March, 8.05pm (AEDT).
While you’d expect nothing less from clashes between two of the competition’s biggest and best performers over the last few seasons, it’s pleasing to be reminded that when the Cowboys and Storm meet on the same patch of turf, the sparks often fly.
Both sides boast talent across the park with some of the game’s modern greats on deck in the spine of each side and the first meeting of Melbourne and North Queensland of 2018 should be another tremendous platform for the likes of Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Matt Scott.
While the attacking experience of both sides is never far from view it will be the defensive efforts of both sides that dictate how well they’re able to shut down key opposition playmakers. If the traveling Cowboys can keep tabs on Smith, Slater and the likes of Cameron Munster and try-scoring wingers Suliasi Vunivalu and Josh Addo-Carr, they’ll go some way to winning a tight contest while the Storm will be hoping to shut down the craft and guile of Johnathan Thurston and the returning Michael Morgan.
Closing down Thurston may prove a task too difficult though given the incandescent form of the former recently retired Queensland and Australia halfback who has managed a handy five try assists and an average of 95 run metres per game across the first two weeks of the campaign.
2017 – Grand Final – Melbourne Storm 34 def. North Queensland Cowboys 6 at ANZ Stadium
2017 – Round 22 – Melbourne Storm 26 def. North Queensland Cowboys 8 at 1300Smiles Stadium
2017 – Round 15 – Melbourne Storm 23 def. North Queensland Cowboys 22 at AAMI Park
2016 – Qualifying Final – Melbourne Storm 16 def. North Queensland Cowboys 10 at AAMI Park
2016 – Round 21 – Melbourne Storm 16 def. North Queensland Cowboys 8 at 1300Smiles Stadium
Recent history has been very kind to the Melbourne Storm in this fixture with the 2017 premiers winning their last six clashes with the Cowboys, including the 2017 Grand Final at ANZ Stadium which ended in a one-sided 34-6 triumph.
The Cowboys haven’t beaten the Storm since they managed a 32-12 win way back in 2015 when they traveled to the Victorian capital and left with two valuable competition points on their way to a Grand Final triumph of their own.
Overall, the Storm has won seven of their last 10 games against the boys from Townsville, a stat which bodes well for Craig Bellamy’s troops.
|Melbourne Storm||North Queensland Cowboys|
|1||Billy Slater||Ben Hampton|
|2||Suliasi Vunivalu||Kyle Feldt|
|3||Will Chambers||Justin O’Neill|
|4||Curtis Scott||Javid Bowen|
|5||Josh Addo-Carr||Antonio Winterstein|
|6||Cameron Munster||Michael Morgan|
|7||Brodie Croft||Johnathan Thurston|
|8||Jesse Bromwich||Matthew Scott|
|9||Cameron Smith||Jake Granville|
|10||Nelson Asofa-Solomona||Jordan McLean|
|11||Joe Stimson||Gavin Cooper|
|12||Ryan Hoffman||Coen Hess|
|13||Dale Finucane||Jason Taumalolo|
|14||Tim Glasby||Te Maire Martin|
|15||Kenneath Bromwich||John Asiata|
|16||Christian Welch||Scott Bolton|
|17||Sam Kasiano||Ethan Lowe|
|18||Young Tonumaipea||Corey Jensen|
|19||Tui Kamikamica||Kyle Laybutt|
|20||Billy Walters||Francis Molo|
|21||Brandon Smith||Enari Tuala|
The facts that matter
The Storm enter round three on the back of a shock 10-8 loss to the Wests Tigers and it’s safe to say Craig Bellamy will have put his side through their paces in a big way through the week in an effort to recover and cut out easy dropped points.
Last week’s loss to the Tigers also put a dampener on celebrations for Billy Slater’s 300th game so I expect a big game for the representative fullback this week as he looks to put a worthy bookend on the back of a tremendous career.
Moving forward, the Storm will need to cut down on their errors and find a more settled rhythm in defence if they are to turn things around quickly and notch a win at home against the Cowboys. 38 missed tackles against the Tigers last week stands out as the key stat that contributed to the poor Melbourne performance so tightening things up on that side of the ball will have been the focus this week for Craig Bellamy.
Winning the forward pack battle also looms as the biggest key in this contest. If Matt Scott, Gavin Cooper, Coen Hess, Jason Taumalolo and former Storm forward Jordan McLean get a roll on, a Melbourne forward pack in transition could struggle to get back into the contest.
North Queensland Cowboys
Having suffered a narrow loss to bitter rivals Brisbane last week, the North Queensland Cowboys will be rueing their missed chance at being undefeated after two rounds of the competition and in desperate need of a big win on the road this weekend against Melbourne.
Johnathan Thurston still stands tall as one of, if not the best player in the game these days and he’ll naturally have plenty of say in how things pan out for the Cowboys while standing as a key target for the Melbourne defence across the full 80 minutes.
The return of Michael Morgan pairs Thurston with his most reliable and consistent halves partner and allows Paul Green to use the enigmatic Te Maire Martin from the bench once again which could be the sort of game-breaking difference on the night.
New recruit Jordan McLean, who moved north from Melbourne over the off-season, has been in sensational form for the Cowboys and should be in for a good night out against his former employers.
No matter how this one pans out, there’s every chance we are going to be served up an instant classic and there’s no better way to start a week of footy.
The 2017 premiers and the 2015 premiers both on deck with everything to play for so early in the season, yes please!
That said, I’ve got Melbourne edging a very narrow contest.
Will the Storm bounce back from the loss to the Tigers with a win or will the Cowboys prove too strong? Let us know in the comments and poll below.