Match of the Round: Warriors vs Storm
Every so often a match rolls around which has hallmarks of a special occasion – a history of close results, players in both teams who are at the peak of their powers and coaches who are as passionate as they are skillful.
Enter the Warriors and the Storm this Sunday at Mount Smart Stadium.
Both sides have fiercely close records when they do battle. The New Zealand side has the best record against Melbourne out of any team in the competition with 13 wins and 2 draws from their 30 matches.
In the last ten, it reads Warriors five, Melbourne four and one draw. Storm supporters will say they ran out winners in Round 8 this year 32-14, courtesy of a last ten minute burst.
Warriors’ fans will talk of their classic 20-12 victory in last years’ preliminary final.
Both sides have Test match players or young guns who are carving out impressive careers.
The Storm’s much-vaunted trio of Billy Slater – who continues to lead the try-scoring table this year, Cooper Cronk – surely cemented his place as Australia and Queensland’s number one halfback – and Cameron Smith – newly appointed Australian captain to go with his Queensland and Storm duties – are well spoken about.
Yet England Test player Gareth Widdop continues to develop in his role at five-eighth, Dane Nielsen is one of the form players in the side and one-Test Kiwis winger Matt Duffie continues to excel. These players complement a strong forward pack led by Jesse Bromwich and Jason Ryles.
The Warriors don’t have as much star power but can still point to a side with a young look who complement more experienced players. Young halfback Shaun Johnson – handed his first Kiwis jersey this year – is back after injury and probably the most exciting player to come out of these shores since Stacey Jones.
His halves partner James Maloney is a calming influence on the team who was close to Kangaroos selection last year and is an accurate goal kicker. Then there is Manu Vatuvei, an enigma winger who has 20 Kiwis caps and 92 tries in 132 NRL matches. He is a strike weapon despite fluctuating form. Prop Ben Matulino has matured into the competition’s form forward and captain Simon Mannering is a vastly experienced player with 28 Kiwis games and 150 NRL matches.
Then there are the coaches. Melbourne’s Craig “Bellyache” Bellamy has led the team for nine seasons and with a 68% record is one of the NRL’s most successful coaches. He has also had stints with Country Origin and New South Wales. Bellamy is regarded as the key behind Melbourne’s transformation into a consistent powerhouse where everyone knows their role in the side.
On the other side, Brian “Bluey” McClennan is regarded as a “people’s” coach, much like former Warriors and Kiwis coach Frank Endacott. McClennan led the Kiwis to a history-making Tri-Nations title in 2005 to go with two Super League titles with Leeds Rhinos before taking over the Warriors this year.
Both coaches are 110% passionate about their sides and are refreshing in age of reserved corporate sporting theatre. Just don’t get your kids to read their lips when the cameras focus on their reactions.
Bring on Sunday.
The Roar will be live blogging the Warriors vs Storm game from 2pm AEST on Sunday at Mount Smart Stadium