Melbourne Storm vs Wests Tigers: Lineups, preview, & prediction

AAMI Park, Saturday 17th March, 7:35pm (AEST).

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Overview

Melbourne Storm vs Wests Tigers – constant achievers against perennial disappointments (in the eyes of this humble Wests Tigers fan, anyway). In the 2017 season, this match-up may have been a foregone conclusion with not much thought being given to the game, as it was table toppers against table enders. But the Wests Tigers have turned a page seemingly in 2018 under coach Ivan Cleary and the Melbourne Storm continue into the unknown without one of the staples to their continuous success – star halfback Cooper Cronk. This match is exciting for this reason; it is rebuilt club against adjusting club. This match will provide an interesting insight I believe into how each clubs seasons will possibly play out.

Recent meetings

2017 – Round 4 – Melbourne Storm won 22-14 at Leichhardt Oval

2017 – Round 2 – Melbourne Storm won 14-6 at Eden Park

2016 – Round 16 – Melbourne Storm won 29-20 at AAMI Park

2016 – Round 7 – Melbourne Storm won 19-18 at Leichhardt Oval

2015 – Round 21 – Wests Tigers won 34-16 at Leichhardt Oval

Selected teams

Melbourne Storm Wests Tigers
1 Billy Slater  Tui Lolohea
2 Suliasi Vunivalu Corey Thompson
3 Will Chambers Esan Marsters
4 Curtis Scott Kevin Naiqama
5 Josh Addo-Carr Malakai Watene-Zelezniak
6 Cameron Munster Benji Marshall
7 Brodie Croft Luke Brooks
8 Jesse Bromwich Russell Packer
9 Cameron Smith Pita Godinet
10 Nelson Asofa-Solomona Ben Matulino
11 Felise Kaufusi Chris Lawrence
12 Ryan Hoffman Robbie Rochow
13 Dale Finucane Elijah Taylor
Interchange
14 Tim Glasby Matt McIlwrick
15 Kenny Bromwich Alex Twal
16 Christian Welch Michael Chee Kam
17 Sam Kasiano Matthew Eisenhuth
Reserves
18 Young Tonumaipea Josh Aloiai
19 Joe Stimson David Nofoaluma
20 Billy Walters Tim Grant
21 Brandon Smith Tyson Gamble

The facts that matter

Melbourne Storm

Melbourne welcome back star fullback Billy Slater for his 300th NRL game (all for the Melbourne Storm) this week for their clash against the Wests Tigers. This means Cameron Munster shifts from fullback, where he put in a masterclass against the hapless Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (Melbourne Storm 36 – Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 18), into the five eight position in the halves alongside young gun Brodie Croft.

Cameron Munster’s rapid rise from young talent to one of the NRL’s best talents has continued the good fortune for the Melbourne Storm, and will significantly ease the blow of losing star halfback Cooper Cronk at the conclusion of last season. Melbourne, arguably, was the most impressive team of round 1 in my opinion, giving off the impression that life without Cooper Cronk may not be as difficult as once thought. Cameron Munster is the star of the Melbourne Storm and their key to success this year, with old heads Cameron Smith and Billy Slater to provide the support, experience and direction. If Cameron Munster fires again this weekend alongside impressive halfback Brodie Croft, along with the occasion of Billy Slater’s 300th game at the club and in the NRL. There is a chance the Wests Tigers may just get blown away by pure talent and skill, a noticeable difference between the two teams.

 Wests Tigers

Wests Tigers created the upset of the round and stunned the competition with a tight 10-8 victory over the star-studded Sydney Roosters, creating not the desired starts for star halfback Cooper Cronk and former Wests Tigers fullback James Tedesco. 

The Tigers were rocked by a hamstring injury to new recruit Josh Reynolds in the captains run the previous Friday before the game, which mean returning Wests Tigers player Benji Marshall was parachuted from the bench into the starting position at 5/8 in his returning game for his beloved Wests Tigers. Benji Marshall impressed viewers (including myself) with his maturity, the cool head, game awareness, and talent the aging half still possesses. Perhaps worryingly for the Tigers, Benji Marshall controlled the game for the majority of the 80 minutes for the Tigers (rather than halfback Luke Brooks), for the Tigers to fare well against the Storm on Saturday, Luke Brooks will need to pick up his share of the work and fill into the play-making, game demanding role the Tigers desperately want him to be.

Most of the Tigers forward pack was solid against the Roosters last week, in attack and especially in defence. The stand out player for the Tigers was Elijah Taylor with a mind-blowing 53 tackles in round 1, for the Tigers to compete against the Storm, they will need to weather Melbourne’s impressive attack, especially that of Cameron Munster at five eight. This means another monster effort in the middle and smart defensive reads on the edges, something the Tigers back rowers and centres did well last week.

Prediction

Wests Tigers showed a great amount of heart and determination last week against Sydney Roosters to cause a massive upset against one of the premiership favourites. However, 5th tackle options were poor for the Tigers and I think the strength of the Storm with the return of Billy Slater at fullback may overwhelm the Tigers late in the game and lead Melbourne to a smooth victory. Melbourne by 12.

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