NRL Finals Week 3, 2007
Storm v Eels Preview
The Storm are certainties say the punters; can Hagan’s Hero’s pull off another upset win?
All the stats say Melbourne are unbeatable; but the Eels know a slow, stop – start match will help them. Kicking for touch, or even kicking dead in goal will stop the return power and flow of Billy Slater. Slater’s thrust gives Melbourne their platform; as Cameron Smith takes over from there.
Melbourne can also be dragged into the trenches by aggression. Rattling and antagonising them as the Eels did a few weeks ago does take their minds of free flowing rugby league and the likes of Crocker and Jeremy Smith are prone to react.
Here’s how the game shapes up:
LOCATION: Telstra Dome, 4:00pm AEST, Sunday September 23, 2007
HEAD TO HEAD: Played 18, Storm 11, Eels 7
LAST TIME: Storm 14 â€“ Eels 10, Olympic Park, round 23, 2007
COVERAGE: Channel Nine (live), ABC Radio, 2GB
MEDICAL ROOM: The Storm will be at full strength for this Sundayâ€™s grand final qualifier, with only reserve prop Antonio Kaufusi (knee) unavailable. Five-eighth Greg Inglis (back) and prop Ben Cross (hamstring) both return to the starting side after missing week one of the semi-finals through injury.
Parramatta will be without the services of centre Ben Smith and fullback Luke Burt for the remainder of the season, with both stars suffering from knee injuries. Joel Reddy has again been named in the centres, while interchange hooker PJ Marsh will play despite being hampered by a broken thumb.
FORM: The Storm take a six-match winning streak into this preliminary final clash, including a 40-0 demolition of the injury-ravaged Brisbane Broncos in week one of the finals. The minor premiers have racked up a staggering 128 points and kept their opponents to a total of 12 points in their past three matches.
The Eels have showed that they are more than just a flashy attacking unit over the past fortnight, grinding out wins over the Warriors and the Bulldogs. The highly underrated Parramatta forward pack has dominated their rivals over the past fortnight, with Fuifui Moimoi, Nathan Cayless and both the Hindmarsh brothers paving the way for a first up 12-10 victory over the Warriors in week one of the finals, followed by a resounding 25-6 win over a fearsome Bulldogs unit last weekend. With the Eels pack laying the foundations up front, Parramattaâ€™s highly skilful backline is just starting to click into gear, with Timana Tahu, Krisnan Inu and Jarryd Hayne looking particularly dangerous.
Cameron Smith vs Mark Riddell/PJ Marsh
Widely regarded as the best number nine in the game, Smith provides the Storm with a surprise third attacking option aside from creative halves Cooper Cronk and Greg Inglis. Possessing the best dummy half kicking game in the NRL, Smithâ€™s vast array of attacking skills are complemented by his terrier like defence. The tenacious Test hooker was at his dominant best against the Broncos in week one of the finals with 17 runs (seven dummy half runs) for 109 metres, with 36 tackles, one line break and four kicks in play. Smith’s kicking game and creativity around the ruck gives Melbourne another X-Factor over the Eels. Look for Smith to dart out of dummy half late in each half and expose the tiring Eels forwards.
The hooking combination of Mark Riddell and PJ Marsh is one of the most lethal in the NRL. A big factor in getting the Eels high intensity, rolling ruck going, Riddell and Marshâ€™s ability to know when to scoot or pass from the dummy half position offers the Eels a valuable third attacking option aside from their dynamic halves. Both rakes carved the Bulldogs up through the middle of the ruck last weekend, and they will play a pivotal role in determining the outcome of this match. For the Eels, it all starts up front, where Moimoi has delivered major grunt to the pack. His explosive running game is hard for the opposition to handle, allowing Marsh and Riddell to create all sorts of problems around the ruck area. Their rapid play-the-balls then allow Parramatta’s speed men the space to apply their skill.
Israel Folau vs Timana Tahu
Folau is regarded by many as the next Mal Meninga. Not only can he break tackles in a similar fashion to the former Australian captain, but he would also have to be the most effective NRL player in the air. The 18-year-old has been a revelation in his debut season, crossing for a club-record 21 tries in 2007. He possesses all the vital ingredients associated with being a first-class centre, with his size, skill and pace dazzling many in his short career. Folauâ€™s defensive skills are sure to be tested this Sunday by Tahu in what shapes as being an intriguing contest.
Tahu has been in damaging form since returning from a troublesome hamstring injury, with the rugby union bound centre showcasing his breathtaking skills and brutal defence, reinforcing why many experts regard him as the NRLâ€™s best centre. Tahu is making the most of every week he has left in league â€“ he was devastating against the Dogs last weekend with 18 runs for 184 metres, with five tackle breaks, a line break, try assist and try. The explosive Eels centre has the ability to beat an opponent with raw speed, dazzling footwork or brute strength.
VERDICT: The Eels have the firepower in the backline to more than match the Storm but they will be coming up against a brick wall in this clash â€“ the Storm concede the least amount of points (11.1), tries (1.8), line breaks (2.9) and metres (1,259) per game. A feature of Parramattaâ€™s game this season has been their ability to climb over the top of the majority of their opponents in the final 20 minutes of their matches. However, Melbourne has conceded just one try in the final 20 minutes of their past 11 matches. Since late June, only the Roosters have cracked Melbourne’s defence (in round 20) in the final quarter of a game. During that crucial final 20 minutes, St George Illawarra, Souths, Newcastle, Canberra, Cronulla, Brisbane (twice), Parramatta, Bulldogs and Gold Coast could not crack the Storm’s defensive line to score.In a match that is expected to be dictated by defence and the ability to perform under pressure, the experience and class of Smith and Cronk should prove to be the difference.
Melbourne Storm Team
Billy Slater, Steve Turner, Matt King, Israel Folau, Anthony Quinn, Greg Inglis, Cooper Cronk, Ben Cross, Cameron Smith (c), Brett White, Clint Newton, Ryan Hoffman, Dallas Johnson
Bench: Jeremy Smith, Matt Geyer, Michael Crocker, Jeff Lima, James Aubusson, Garret Crossman
Parramatta Eels Team
Jarryd Hayne, Krisnan Inu, Joel Reddy, Timana Tahu, Eric Grothe, Brett Finch, Tim Smith, Nathan Cayless (c), Mark Riddell, Fuifui Moimoi, Nathan Hindmarsh, Ian Hindmarsh, Feleti Mateo
Bench: PJ Marsh, Josh Cordoba, Chad Robinson, Daniel Wagon