In a week filled with rugby league conjecture and criticism, it's nice to turn the focus to footy, and boy do we have a game here! 1 vs. 2. Defence vs. attack. It's a top of the table clash on Friday night as the Storm go up against the Rabbitohs in Sydney. The winner of this match takes outright top spot on the ladder and bragging rights heading into September.
After nine-straight victories, the Bunnies have been average the last two weeks and face a Storm side who will be brimming with confidence. Craig Bellamy's men easily dispatched of Canberra last week and are themselves in the midst of a nine-game unbeaten run. Rabbitohs coach Anthony Seibold faces off against his former boss for the first time and could really stake his claim for coach of the year honours with a victory over Craig Bellamy. It's all to play for in Round 21 as the Bunnies do battle with the Storm.
2017 - Round 25 - Storm 64 def. Rabbitohs 6 at AAMI Park
2017 - Round 11 - Storm 14 def. Rabbitohs 6 at NIB Stadium
2016 - Round 22 - Storm 15 def. Rabbitohs 14 at AAMI Park
2015 - Round 10 - Storm 16 def. Rabbitohs 12 at AAMI Park
2014 - Round 10 - Storm 27 def. Rabbitohs 14 at ANZ Stadium
There are bogey sides, and then there is Melbourne when they're playing the Bunnies. The Rabbitohs have managed just four wins against the Storm in their entire history and boast a horror 15% win record against the Melbourne-based outfit. Their most recent clash was a 64-6 drubbing and the pain of that loss should be fresh in the memory of many Rabbitohs - nine of the 13 players that pulled on the boots that night will line up again for the Bunnies on Friday.
|1||Alex Johnston||Billy Slater|
|2||Campbell Graham||Suliasi Vunivalu|
|3||Hymel Hunt||Will Chambers|
|4||Dane Gagai||Curtis Scott|
|5||Robert Jennings||Josh Addo-Carr|
|6||Cody Walker||Cameron Munster|
|7||Adam Reynolds||Jahrome Hughes|
|8||Thomas Burgess||Jesse Bromwich|
|9||Damien Cook||Cameron Smith|
|10||George Burgess||Nelson Asofa-Solomona|
|11||John Sutton||Felise Kaufusi|
|12||Angus Crichton||Ryan Hoffman|
|13||Sam Burgess||Dale Finucane|
|14||Adam Doueihi||Joe Stimson|
|15||Cameron Murray||Tim Glasby|
|16||Jason Clark||Christian Welch|
|17||Junior Tatola||Kenneath Bromwich|
|18||Billy Brittain||Justin Olam|
|19||Kyle Turner||Tui Kamikamica|
|20||Dean Britt||Albert Vete|
|21||Braidon Burns||Cheys Blair|
The facts that matter
The Storm are humming along nicely as we head towards September and are deserved premiership favourites with just five rounds remaining. Outside of the Roosters, they are the clear standout, having capped off nine-straight victories with a flawless month of football. The cornerstone of their 2018 season has been their defence. They are the second-best defensive side in the competition and we all know what they say about defences winning premierships.
If there is one question mark over the Storm in 2018, it's their halves pairing. Five-eighth Cameron Munster is playing out of his skin and has flourished in the absence of Cooper Cronk, however, the Storm have trialled three different halfback options this season. Despite flashes of brilliance from Brodie Croft and Ryley Jacks, Craig Bellamy has opted for 23-year-old Jahrome Hughes as his number seven. It's a big gamble for the Bellamy and the Storm leading into the finals. While Hughes has been at his explosive best in eight appearances this year, it remains to be seen how he responds when the screws are applied and pressure mounts. It's plenty of responsibility for the youngster and could prove to be Melbourne's undoing during the finals series.
While the Storm lead the premiership in the defensive stakes, it's the Bunnies who come up trumps in attack. Their 78 tries this season is the best in the competition and their left side attack has been lethal. Robert Jennings remains an unlikely leader at the top of the try scoring list off the back of a stellar 2018 and will look to add to his tally on Friday night.
The Rabbitohs have been poor the last two games - there's no questioning that. A loss to the Tigers was closely followed by an unconvincing comeback against the Eels and coach Anthony Seibold didn't hold back in voicing his displeasure following the game. Despite that critique, Seibold has stuck solid with the same team that scraped home against the Eels and will be hoping that their form over the last fortnight was more of a lapse than a full-blown collapse. Of greatest concern has been the form of halves Cody Walker and Adam Reynolds. During a run of nine-straight victories, the Bunnies halves were combining nicely, but something of late has stalled their progress. Reynolds especially has been quiet in his last two games and will need a big performance against the Storm to get his side back on track.
This one promises to be an absolute blockbuster. Two opposing styles going head to head in a game that could well decide the minor premiership. The defensive resolve of the Storm up against the try-scoring brilliance of the Bunnies - this should be high stakes and high-quality football at its best.
The Storm looked slick last weekend against the Raiders and the fact that Bellamy rested his stars at the back end of that game suggests he is priming the Storm for another big finals series. Expect the Bunnies to improve sharply in this game but Melbourne should have too much class. Storm by 8 points.
One side leaves this match with top spot and deserved premiership favouritism. Will it be the Storm or the Rabbitohs who stake their claim in this top of the table blockbuster? Tell us in the poll below.