Tonga have been struck a major blow ahead of their Test with New Zealand with Andrew Fifita set to miss the massive showdown because of suspension.
There is no love lost between these sides. They really don’t like each other.
The Sharks still smart about being knocked out of the 2008 race by a Storm side so far over the cap that their premierships were rubbed out of competition history. The Storm, conversely, don’t like losing grand finals and they lost one to the Sharks.
This is the Storm’s 11th preliminary final in their 21 seasons. They have only lost two of them (2011, 2015 – both of those losses were at this venue). The Storm have played in eight grand finals in 20 seasons. If they win this match it will be their third straight grand final appearance. It’ll be their eighth grand final in 13 seasons.
They’ve won four of those.
However, they know how to get there so very well. Only three times have the Storm not made the finals in 21 seasons. This will be their 45th finals match in that time.
That equates to 2.14 finals played on average each year. They’ve only lost 16 of 44 (36.4 per cent). Of the 195 NRL finals games that have been played since 1998, the most the Storm could possibly have played in is 67 (allowing for 2010 where they were ineligible).
So, they have played in 67.2 per cent of every finals game they possibly could have.
That is an incredible record.
The Sharks in comparison have played in only 21 of the 78 maximum that they could have played (26.9 per cent).
However, coming into this match the Sharks actually have the edge in recent encounters, having won four out of the last five between the sides – including the last two at this venue.
That said, the lads from the Shire are a bit broken. I’ll be stunned if Paul Gallen plays in this game, and Wade Graham will definitely be missing. That’s their key leaders. Meanwhile – with the exception of Ryan Hoffman – the Storm are at full strength.
There is talk that Andrew Fifita may have the “C” put next to his name. The Storm would be right to be wary of that sort of wild card. They are a side that loves and needs structure and a working game plan. They have often been found out by unpredictable and expansive sides. Fifita as captain is likely to bring chaos one way or the other.
So how do the stats see this one playing out?
|Line breaks conceded||3.5 (#2 NRL)||3.5 (#2 NRL)|
|Missed tackles||22.7 (#2 NRL)||24.1 (#5 NRL)||+1.4 Sharks|
|Tries conceded||2.6 (#2 NRL)||2.9 (#3 NRL)||+0.3 Sharks|
|Errors||10.8 (#3 NRL)||10.6 (5th NRL)||+0.2 Storm|
|Meters conceded||1284.4 (#1 NRL)||1362.1||+77.7 Sharks|
|Penalties conceded||7.8||8.4||+0.6 Sharks|
|Offloads||9.5||10.2 (#4 NRL)||+0.7 Sharks|
So, apart from the errors conceded, the Storm win every category here. They are probably only behind the Roosters when it comes to their defence. However, the only difference of any real consequence here is that the Sharks concede 78 more metres a game on average.
Frankly, both sides are great in defence.
Individual player stats
|Tackles made||C. Smith – 34.7
F. Kaufusi – 31.7
D. Finucane – 27.4
J. Stimson – 23
|J. Bailey – 27.6
P. Gallen – 27.3
A. Fifita – 23.9
A. Woods – 23.8
M. Prior – 22.8
|Missed tackles||C. Munster – 2.8
J. Hughes – 2.7
W. Chambers – 2.7
B. Croft – 2.5
|C. Townsend – 3.2
M. Moylan – 3.1
L. Lewis – 2
K. Capewell – 2
|Penalties conceded||C. Munster – 0.9
C. Smith – 0.8
D. Finucane – 0.7
N. Asofa-Solomona – 0.7
|A. Fifita – 1.3
A. Woods – 1
L. Lewis – 0.8
|Errors||W. Chambers – 1.3
S. Vunivalu – 1.2
B. Slater – 1.2
|M. Moylan – 1.4
C. Townsend – 1
J. Dugan – 1
V. Holmes – 0.9
However, Paul Gallen is a key defender for the Sharks and I don’t reckon he’ll play. Now at 78 years old, it takes longer for him to heal.
The will is as strong as ever but the running gear is worn. I’m betting that Prior will slip to second row and that Capewell or Sorensen will go to lock. Woods will go to prop.
The Storm rely heavily on the tackling triumvirate of Smith, Kaufusi and Finucane. The Sharks spread the workload, with seven of them averaging in the 20s. The Sharks are going to target Brodie Croft and Will Chambers in defence for sure. Matt Moylan and Luke Lewis will see the most traffic for the Sharks.
Poor old Will Chambers – fresh from a three-week break for a crusher tackle that only got Latrell one week and nothing for Greg Inglis – will have his tackling and ball handling tested in this game. The Queenslander – by way of the Northern Territory – can be really good in big games though!
|Line breaks||4.2||4.8 (#2 NRL)||+0.6 Sharks|
|Tackle breaks||27.1||25.3||+1.8 Storm|
|Tries scored||3.6||3.5||+0.1 Storm|
|Meters made||1346 (#13 NRL)||1416 (#5 NRL)||+70 Sharks|
|Penalties received||9.2 (#1 NRL)||8.2||+1 Storm|
|Offloads||9.7||11 (#3 NRL)||+1.3 Sharks|
So the Sharks extra metres gained wipe out the Storm’s fewer metres conceded. The key difference between these stats is that the Storm should be almost two penalties better off in this game.
There is so very little that separates these two sides in regards to team stats.
Individual player stats
|Tackle breaks||J. Addo-Carr – 3.9
B. Slater – 3.6
J. Hughes – 3.1
N. Asofa-Solomona – 2.8
C. Munster – 2.8
|A. Fifita – 3.4
V. Holmes – 3.3
J. Dugan – 3.1
S. Katoa – 3
|Line breaks||J. Addo-Carr – 19
B. Slater – 11
S. Vunivalu – 11
C. Munster – 8
|V. Holmes – 27 (#1 NRL)
E. Lee – 13
S. Feki – 12
J. Ramien – 10
|Metres gained||J. Addo-Carr – 127
J. Bromwich – 113
B. Slater – 104
|V. Holmes – 143
P. Gallen – 131
A. Woods – 127
A. Fifita – 127
|Tries scored||J. Addo-Carr – 17
S. Vunivalu – 15
C. Scott – 9
|V. Holmes – 22
E. Lee – 12
J. Ramien – 10
S. Feki – 8
|Try assists||C. Munster – 18
B. Slater – 14
R. Jacks – 7
|M. Moylan – 18
C. Townsend – 15
V. Holmes – 9
J. Segeyaro – 9
|Line break assists||C. Munster – 18
B. Slater – 10
C. Smith – 9
|M. Moylan – 22
W. Graham – 11
C. Townsend – 10
V. Holmes – 8
|Offloads||B. Slater – 1.2
S. Vunivalu – 1
J. Bromwich – 0.9
|A. Fifita – 2.9 (#1 NRL)
A. Woods – 1.4
W. Graham – 1.2
J. Dugan – 1.1
I reckon Josh Dugan will come in for someone in this match. I just don’t know who. Probably Ricky Leutele I guess.
Valentine Holmes stats look pretty good here. However, in the last six rounds he has exploded, averaging 198 metres and 4.3 tacle breaks a game. In that time he has scored four tries, made eight line breaks, five try assists and four line break assists. That’s some form right there.
I was very sceptical about the value Matt Moylan would add to the Sharks side. However, his try and line break assists show that he has worked out well. Question is can he do it against the Storm?
The Sharks round 22 win against the Storm was only his second victory against them from six outings. His only other win was at his first attempt while playing for the Panthers in 2013. However, the round 22 win was his first time in the six jersey when playing the Purple Horde.
The Storm will be very happy to see big Nelson Asofa-Solomona return with his big hitting and tackle breaking. The Storm will need Josh Addo-Carr to do well in this match, as they will also Cam Munster – upon whom most of the Storms attack will rest. He’ll be up for that.
Andm of course, he’ll be supported by Billy Slater who is playing each game like it could be his last, because either this weekend or next he’ll be right.
Playing against a team who’ll likely have a rookie captain, Smith’s mastery of game management will be crucial. This will be his 383rd NRL game (432nd in total). He’s going for 400 next year. While he says he is still up for it, you’d better believe him.
As above, he’s playing to go out a winner. He is a winner. One of the best I’ve ever seen. This is his last home game in front of his beloved Purple People – and how they love him.
When he was at the Wests Tigers I could see he had talent. However, he has become a great player at the Storm. I know many of my Raiders brethren will be annoyed about this, but the Fox reminds me a bit of Chicka Ferguson when he’s breaking tackles. But he’s a fair bit faster. The Sharks can’t afford to have him get loose.
Last week Fifita made 20 runs for 175 metres. Add to that 23 tackles – with no misses – three offloads, four tackle breaks, one line break assist and one try assist. He was the popular man of the match in the 2016 Grand Final when his best was more than the Storm could contain. Mr Flanagan, roll the dice and put the “C” next to his name. I want to see it.
As above, he’s the form player in the comp right now. If he isn’t limited he could put the Storm away himself.
If he plays he constitutes a great danger – to the Sharks. I don’t reckon he’ll see out the match. They should not risk him.
As above, if Moylan fires – if he gets his confidence up and that dangerous, interested look in his eye – then the Sharks will win this. Question is will he? He’s been in good form recently.
The wild card. I reckon he’ll come in. If he can play his best the Storm will be in strife.
The Storm’s overall record
This will be the Storm’s 558th game since they entered the competition in 1998. They have an amazing win rate of 64.8 per cent.
In Melbourne that win rate increases to 71.1 per cent. At AAMI Park that increases further to 75.4 per cent.
Having said that, they’ve lost four of their 12 matches at home this season to only have a 66.66 per cent win rate.
This will be the Storm’s 45th finals match in 21 seasons. They’ve won 29 of them (64.44 per cent). In Melbourne, they’ve won 14 of the 21 they’ve played (66.66 per cent).
The Sharks overall record
This will be the Sharks 1350th competition game. They have won 648 of them (48 per cent).
In the NRL era, the Sharks have played 531 games and won 264 of them (49.7 per cent).
This will be the Sharks 46th finals game since 1967. They’ve won 19 of them (42.2 per cent). However, they’ve won six of their last ten finals matches (60 per cent).
This will be just their eighth finals match outside Sydney. They have only won one from seven (against the Raiders in Canberra in 2016) for a 14.3 per cent win rate.
Overall between the sides
This will be the 37th time these two sides have met going back to when the Storm joined the competition in 1998. The Storm have won 22 of those games (61.1 per cent).
The last ten
The last ten matches between these sides have been split five apiece. However, the Sharks have won four of the last five, including the last two matches in Melbourne.
Further, the Sharks won both encounters this year; 14-4 at Shark Park in round four (also winning the penalty count 14-19) and 17-14 in round 22.
So the Sharks actually have this stat very much in their favour.
At this venue
This will be the tenth time that these two sides have played at AAMI Park. The Storm have won seven of the nine so far (77.8 per cent). However, the last two matches here have been won by the Sharks.
This will be the 20th time that these two sides have met in Melbourne. It stands 12-7 in the Storm’s favour (63.1 per cent).
This will be the third finals game between the two sides. The Storm won the 2008 preliminary final at the SFS 28-0. The Sharks beat the Storm 14-12 in the 2016 Grand Final at ANZ Stadium.
So this will be the first time they’ve met in a final outside Sydney. Further, whenever these two sides play against each other in the finals; it is a big game!
The Sharks have won eight of their last twelve games. They had a poor start to 2018, winning just two of their first six games and languishing in 13th spot. Then they went on a bit of a run and got themselves up to fourth spot by round 12.
That was the ladder position they managed to finish in after some tribulations, only losing five games out of their last 19.
The Sharks have played 13 games against the other finalists this season – including last week’s win over the Panthers – winning six and losing seven. However, three of those five wins were against the Panthers.
The Storm have won seven out of their last ten games. However, the three losses all came in the last six rounds and all were to other finalists, with two at this venue – one of which was to the Sharks.
The Storm have played 11 games against the other finalists so far this season for six wins and five losses. However, only four of those matches have been against other top four sides, and they’ve lost three of them. They’ve lost two of the five home games they’ve had against other top eight sides.
Referees: Gerard Sutton, Ben Cummins
This refereeing combination has never controlled a match between these sides – finals or otherwise – together before.
Gerard Sutton has controlled two games between these sides, with the Storm winning both of them: 30-2 at Shark Park in round 22 of 2015, and 26-6 at AAMI Park in round 26 of 2016.
Ben Cummins has controlled four games between these sides with the results being split 2-2. The only one of those that was in the last five seasons was the 2016 NRL Grand Final that the Sharks won.
Cummins has controlled 48 Melbourne Storm games since 2006. The Storm have won 35 of them (72.9 per cent). The Storm have won 12 of the last 14 of the games Cummins has controlled (85.7 per cent) and the last seven straight. Of the 21 games of Melbourne’s that Cummins has controlled in Melbourne, the Purple Horde has lost just three (14.3 per cent).
Cummins has also controlled 48 Cronulla games, also since 2006. The Sharks have won 28 of them (58.33 per cent). Of the ten of the Sharks away games he has controlled, the lads from the shire have won five of them. They’ve also won 50 per cent of the last ten games of theirs that Cummins has run.
Gerry Sutton has run 32 Sharks games since 2009. The Sharks have won 15 of them (46.9 per cent). They’ve won 60 per cent of the last ten of their games that he has officiated. He has controlled 12 Sharks away games and they have won 50 per cent of them.
Sutton has run 38 Storm games since 2009. The Storm have won 25 of them (65.8 per cent). However, they have only lost one of the last 12 of their games that he has controlled (8.33 per cent) and that was the round 25 loss to the Panthers when they were highly weakened.
Sutton has controlled 21 Storm games in Melbourne and they have won 14 of them (66.66 per cent). However, that round 25 loss is the only one in the last nine.
Who is going to win and why
I can see so many reasons that the Sharks can win this. I reckon their backline is better than the Storm’s. If Gallen and Graham were fit I reckon the boys from the Shire would win this. But they aren’t.
The Storm have played in 11 preliminary finals and only lost two. In both cases, it was the team who played expansive and unpredictable games (Warriors 2011, Cowboys 2015). The Sharks can do that. But will they?
While I want to say the Sharks can do this, I’m just not convinced that they will be able to cope against the concerted and focused determination of the Storm, who you know will have been preparing for this game for weeks.
I reckon the Storm will win.
Statistically predicted score: Storm 22 – Sharks 18
Prediction: Storm 1-12