This weekend’s shortened round of matches kicks off with the defending premiers, the Storm, playing host to the Dragons this Thursday evening. Both teams will be weakened, as there are numerous players from both sides who are absent due to State of Origin duty.
The Storm surged into the top four, courtesy of a gripping 9-8 victory over fellow heavyweights, the Roosters in Adelaide. In securing this victory, the Storm not only thwarted former longtime halfback, Cooper Cronk, from stealing victory for his new team, but they reminded everyone of their bruising defence, in restricting the dangerous Roosters to a single try, and that they will not be giving up their title without one hell of a fight.
The Dragons retained their spot atop the premiership ladder, courtesy of last week’s victory over the Eels, in Wollongong. However, the 20-18 scoreline suggests that they were given an almighty scare by the bottom-placed Eels, and that’s precisely what transpired. The Eels were actually the much better team for large periods of the match, and deservedly led 18-8 in the second half. However, they reminded us why they are ranked this high on the ladder, by putting paid to the Eels’ brave challenge.
This match will be the second time the two teams do battle, having already met in round 9 this season. That match was won convincingly by the Dragons at Kogarah, to the tune of 34-14. Undoubtedly, the Storm will be thirsty for revenge, after that loss. However, in order to win, they will need to do so without six of their big guns, who are away on Origin camp. Similarly, the Dragons will be hungry to do the double over the Storm, having already beaten them earlier in the season. They too will have to do this the hard way, with numerous players out on representative duty.
2018 – Round 9 – St George Illawarra Dragons 34 def. Melbourne Storm 14 at WIN Jubilee Oval.
2017 – Round 9 – Melbourne Storm 34 def. St George-Illawarra Dragons 22 at WIN Stadium.
2016 – Round 15 – St George-Illawarra Dragons 20 def. Melbourne Storm 10 at WIN Stadium.
2016 – Round 1 – Melbourne Storm 18 def. St George-Illawarra Dragons 16 at AAMI Park.
2015 – Round 20 – Melbourne Storm 22 def. St George-Illawarra Dragons 4 at McLean Park.
The Storm has been the more dominant side in the most recent encounters between the two sides, winning three of the five matches. In fact, the Storm have largely dominated their overall encounters with the Dragons, winning 24 matches, while the Dragons won 10 of these encounters, followed by a sole draw in 2002. The Storm’s dominance over the Dragons has stemmed from their 1999 grand final victory over the Saints, in that they secured their first victory over them (as a joint venture), and have effectively gone on from there.
However, in their most recent encounter this season, the Dragons defied their abysmal overall record against the Storm, when they defeated the premiers convincingly, to the tune of 34-14. That match was a chance for the Saints to demonstrate to everyone that they were worthy of being up there with the Premiership's elite, which is precisely what they did.
The Dragons will undoubtedly be hungry to repeat the dose this time around. However, in order to do that, there are a number of factors which they will need to overcome. Firstly, they will need to do so without five of their big guns, who will be away on Origin duty. Secondly, they will need to overcome their horrendous record in Melbourne. The last time that the Dragons left the Victorian capital with a victory was in the 1999 qualifying final, where they defeated the Storm, 34-10 at the Storm’s former home ground, Olympic Park. As such, they have never tasted success at AAMI Park, the current home of the defending champions, nor have they been successful in the Victorian capital during Craig Bellamy’s tenure as Storm coach.
|Melbourne Storm||St George Illawarra Dragons|
|1||Young Tonumaipea||Matt Dufty|
|2||Suliasi Vunivalu||Nene MacDonald|
|3||Cheyse Blair||Euan Aitken|
|4||Curtis Scott||Tim Lafai|
|5||Justin Olam||Kurt Mann|
|6||Ryley Jacks||Gareth Widdop|
|7||Jahrome Hughes||Darren Nicholls|
|8||Christian Welch||James Graham|
|9||Cameron Smith||Cameron McInnes|
|10||Nelson Asofa-Solomona||Leeson Ah Mau|
|11||Joe Stimson||Jacob Host|
|12||Ryan Hoffman||Luciano Leilua|
|13||Kenny Bromwich||Blake Lawrie|
|14||Brandon Smith||Jeremy Latimore|
|15||Tui Kamikamica||Jason Nightingale|
|16||Patrick Kaufusi||Hame Sele|
|17||Brodie Croft||Reece Robson|
|18||Scott Drinkwater||Patrick Herbert|
|19||Lachlan Timm||Jai Field|
|20||Albert Vete||Jordan Pereira|
|21||Sandor Earl||Mitchell Allgood|
The facts that matter
The Storm once again reminded us all as to the reason for their status as reigning premiers, by accounting for the Roosters, 9-8 in Adelaide, in what was a bruising match, dominated by staunch defence. When the game was there for the taking for either team, they were able to thwart any attempts by former long-serving player, Cooper Cronk to steal victory for his new team. Thus, they ensured that Cronk would leave this encounter empty-handed. Moreover, they reversed their fortunes from the corresponding fixture at the same venue last season, where the Chooks pipped them by the same margin in golden point.
However, if there’s one area that Bellamy will not be happy about, it’s their error count. They are ranked third in the error count, with 173 for the season. More concerning is that they have made more handling errors than any other team, with 77 for the season. On the flip side, they are ranked in the top five, in terms of tries and overall points scored, with 51 334, respectively. Moreover, the Storm have made 5 charge downs for the season, behind only the Eels and Roosters. And if the game ends up being decided by goal kicking, the Storm hold an advantage in that area, with 86% accuracy, behind only the Panthers. In addition, as has been the case throughout Bellamy’s tenure, the Storm’s defence is impenetrable, to the extent that no other team has conceded fewer points than they have.
As for their home form, well only the Dragons, Rabbitohs and Panthers boast a superior record at home than they do. The Storm have won five of their home games (four at AAMI Park, the other in Brisbane), while dropping only two of them, to the Tigers and Sea Eagles. They boast an imposing record at home against the Dragons, having not tasted defeat to them in Melbourne since 1999, and never lost to them at their current home ground.
The Dragons may be sitting atop the ladder a game clear of the Rabbitohs, but their form of late has seen a few wobbles. On the evidence of their most recent match, they were very fortunate to get out of jail against a very plucky Eels outfit, who gave the ladder leaders an almighty fright. However, as all good teams do, they found a way to answer the challenge posed to them by a stubborn, yet struggling opponent, who in this case were the Eels. Their recent form saw them soundly beaten by the Panthers, get out of jail against the Bulldogs and Eels, and seeing off the Sea Eagles.
Regardless of their recent wobbly form, the Dragons still find themselves in or around the top five of many crucial statistics, such as tries scored (57 - 3rd), overall points scored (371 - 2nd), possession (54% - 1st), post-contact metres (7822 - 3rd), tackle breaks (575 - 1st), metres gained (23883 - 4th), offloads (187 - 4th), intercepts (6 - 1st), and conversions (81% - 5th). Moreover, the Saints are ranked third in defence, having conceded a miserly 237. Only the Roosters and their opponents have been more miserly in defence. However, there is one stat which Paul McGregor will not be so pleased about, and that is handling errors. They have committed the fifth most errors, with 61.
If there is another weakness that the Dragons have, it’s their form this season away from home. Whilst they have won their away matches against the Sharks, Titans and Bulldogs, they have lost just as many matches, which were to the Warriors, Rabbitohs and Panthers. Of all the teams in the top eight, their away form is the worst among them, with only the Broncos holding a similar away record (4 wins, 4 losses). Thus, their task this week is even more difficult, considering they are against the Storm in Melbourne, where they have not tasted success since the 1999 qualifying final. Although they have come close on numerous occasions, they have been humiliated an almost as many occasions.
There is always an abundance of fireworks whenever these two sides meet, and despite the notable absence of eleven players to Origin duty, there is no reason why this will be any different. The Dragons’ overall record against the Storm may be atrocious, but that hasn’t prevented them from aiming up against them, and it’s almost guaranteed that they will do the same thing. They have even greater motivation this time, as they will be aiming to win both their matches against the Storm in a regular season for the first time ever.
The Storm will be thirsty for revenge, having been soundly beaten by the Saints earlier this season. Whilst they will be without several big names, that will also be the case for their opponents. Moreover, Cameron Smith had announced his representative retirement, and will be on deck for them. Smith’s mere presence within the team provides them with an obvious advantage over their opponents. One Storm player who will be fired up for the remainder of the season is Ryan Hoffman, who announced his retirement, effective at the conclusion of the season.
As thirsty as the Dragons will be to do the double on the Storm, and will take no prisoners in this match, their away record is a cause for concern. This is especially when you consider that the Storm are their opponents, and their record in Melbourne is nothing short of deplorable. Thus, with the Storm being at home, and Smith calling the shots, it’s hard to see the Dragons breaking their Melbourne hoodoo this time. Storm by 2.