The first of the matches for Sunday afternoon is sure to be an absolute cracker, with the table-topping Dragons hosting the reigning premiers, the Storm. This is a match which can be regarded as the irresistible force up against the immovable object. Moreover, many tipsters and supporters have viewed this clash as a potential grand final preview.
The Dragons head into this cracking encounter on the back of an impressive Anzac Day victory over the Roosters last Wednesday. Despite the controversial try scored in the 68th minute, the Saints were the better team during the match, being more efficient with the ball and their halfback Ben Hunt outpointing Roosters’ marquee signing, Cooper Cronk throughout the game. Their defence was also impressive, repelling many scoring attempts by the Roosters.
After experiencing a few early season hiccups, the Storm has played their way back into form with three consecutive and highly impressive victories over the Knights, Broncos and the Warriors. These convincing victories have highlighted the reasons why the Storm are the defending premiers and have reminded us why they must never be written off. Moreover, they have made mockeries of the good form of the Knights and Warriors, whilst continuing their dominance over the Broncos.
This match is easily the match of the round, with the table-toppers to be given their sternest test yet, against the reigning premiers. Underscoring this is the fact that the Dragons have ultimately struggled against the Storm since that dramatic decider in 1999. They will definitely be keen to put this right in this match.
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.
2015 - Round 1 - Melbourne Storm 12 def. St George-Illawarra Dragons 4 at WIN Jubilee Oval.
As can be deduced from the aforementioned, the Storm have been largely dominant in their recent encounters with the Dragons, winning four out of these five matches. That lone victory by the Dragons during that period came when the Storm were without their best players, due to State of Origin commitments. In fact, of the 34 encounters between the two sides, the Storm have won 24 of these matches, with 9 victories going the way of the Saints, followed by a lone drawn march in 2002.
The Saints had actually won their first two encounters with the Storm, but that all changed after the 1999 grand final, where the Storm have won all but 8 of their encounters since that decider. Furthermore, the Dragons will have bitter memories of that decider in 1999, having lost that match due to a penalty try and a try from a suspected forward pass, coupled with the fact that they have struggled against the Victorians ever since.
|St George Illawarra Dragons||Melbourne Storm|
|1||Matt Dufty||Billy Slater |
|2||Nene MacDonald||Suliasi Vunivalu|
|3||Euan Aitken||Will Chambers|
|4||Tim Lafai||Curtis Scott|
|5||Jason Nightingale||Josh Addo-Carr|
|6||Gareth Widdop||Cameron Munster|
|7||Ben Hunt||Ryley Jacks|
|8||James Graham||Christian Welch|
|9||Cameron McInnes||Cameron Smith|
|10||Paul Vaughan||Nelson Asofa-Solomona|
|11||Tyson Frizell||Felise Kaufusi|
|12||Tariq Sims||Ryan Hoffman|
|13||Jack De Belin||Dale Finucane|
|14||Jeremy Latimore||Brandon Smith|
|15||Kurt Mann||Kenny Bromwich|
|16||Leeson Ah Mau||Joe Stimson|
|17||Reece Robson||Sam Kasiano|
|18||Jacob Host||Young Tonumaipea|
|19||Zachary Lomax||Patrick Kaufusi|
|20||Mitchell Allgood||Tui Kamikamica|
|21||Hame Sele||Brodie Croft|
The facts that matter
Although it’s only eight rounds into the season, the Dragons have demonstrated that they are worthy of being called heavyweights. They would have been undefeated for the season, if not for their loss to the Warriors in round 7. As such, they sit atop the NRL ladder on seven wins and one loss. In addition, the Saints possess the best defence and attack in the competition, to deservedly find themselves in the position which they are in.
Last week’s ANZAC Day clash with the Roosters exemplified exactly why the Saints find themselves in the position that they are in. Despite seeing less than 50% of the ball, completing only 72% of their sets and making fewer metres than their opponents, the Saints were able to restrict the Chooks to 8 points for the match, whilst scoring 24 points themselves.
However, this is undoubtedly the sternest test of their season, especially with regards to their premiership credentials. They are coming up against an opponent who has completely dominated them throughout their history. Moreover, their opponents are the defending premiers, and are also in some decent form, further underscoring the magnitude of the test which they face in this match.
For the Storm, they find themselves surging up the ladder to be in 4th place. Exemplifying the Storm’s superb form is the fact that they are ranked second in both attack and defence, with only their opponents for this match ranked above them. Of their three losses for the season (twice against the Tigers, once against the Sharks), they could have easily won two of these matches, as all of these losses were incredibly close.
Having found themselves outside the eight after round 5, with two wins and three losses, the Storm have surged up the ladder, courtesy of some commanding victories over the Knights, Broncos and Warriors. In fact their win over the Broncos underscored Craig Bellamy’s dominance over his former mentor, Wayne Bennett, whereas their ANZAC Day win over the Warriors made a total mockery of the good form of the Warriors. Their last three weeks have seen them pile on a whopping 124 points on their opponents, while only conceding 44.
The factor that is in the premiers’ favour is that they hold an imposing record over the Dragons. However, this is definitely a test for them, as they are away to a team that is in red hot form and finds themselves at the summit of the ladder.
In this mouthwatering clash between two potential grand finalists, there is little doubt that an abundance of passion to be displayed. As such, both sides will be desperate to win for numerous reasons.
The Dragons will be keen to prove that they are indeed the real deal, by upsetting the defending premiers, who are also their bogey team. Moreover, they will also be aiming to correct their poor record against the Storm. In addition, former Storm player and current Dragons five-eighth Gareth Widdop will be eager to score as many points as possible against his former team.
The Storm will be eager to consolidate on their overall dominance over the Dragons, as well as continue their surge up the ladder. Moreover, this time there is no Cooper Cronk to pull the strings from the halves. Therefore, they will be super keen to prove they can defeat an in-form team without Cooper Cronk in their number 7 jersey.
The match should be an absolute cracker and with both teams in impressive form, it will be difficult to pick a winner here. However, this writer needs to predict a winner and although it has the feel of a toss of the coin type of result, I like what the Dragons have displayed and feel that they have the personnel to topple the reigning premiers in an absolute cliffhanger. Dragons by 2.
Who will come out on top when two of the better sides in the league go head to head? Let us know in the comments below.