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Finals specialists the Melbourne Storm host the Parramatta Eels in this second qualifying final, the winner earning a week off and a home preliminary final. Join The Roar for live scores and commentary, tonight from 7:50pm (AEST).
Assured of a second-place finish and a home final at Suncorp Stadium, the Storm were afforded the luxury of resting a host of talent last week and that will have them fresh and firing tonight. The Eels weren’t so lucky, needing a win last week against the Wests Tigers to make the top four, and while at times they looked in real danger of losing that match, they rallied late to get the result.
It is one-way traffic in finals match-ups between these two, with the Storm winning all six clashes. The most famous, or perhaps infamous victory came in the 2009 grand final, the Storm coming away with a premiership that now has an asterisk next to it, stripped due to systematic salary cap breaches.
The Storm ended the Eels’ season last year in a sudden-death final, and the Eels won’t have forgotten about that 32-0 shut-out. The Storm have won 11 of the last 16 between the two clubs. In the only clash at Suncorp Stadium, during last year’s Magic Round, the Storm crushed the Eels 62-10. The only fixture between the two this year saw the Eels win 14-0 at Bankwest, with the Storm without a host of stars.
The Storm’s list of inclusions includes 12 returning stars. They are without Max King and Tui Kamikamica through suspension and Dale Finucane through injury but otherwise are as close to full strength as they can get. The Eels welcome back veteran centre Michael Jennings, five-eighth Dylan Brown and forwards Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Shaun Lane for this one.
They too are close to full-strength.
The Storm will look to Cameron Smith to pull the strings on the way to victory. The 37-year-old is controlling the game, and his team as well as he ever has. He is well-supported of course, with the rest of the spine and Brandon Smith off the bench all doing their job.
It is hard to find a real weakness in this side, as it always is with the Storm. But if the game is on the line, it will be Smith that gets the Storm home.
The Eels needs their front-row duo to have a crack early. This team have played their best footy this year with Campbell-Gillard and Junior Paulo making big metres and playing off the back of that. Those two then provide for the likes of Mitch Moses, Dylan Brown and Clint Gutherson to attack off the back of it.
These two sides are coming from places of real contrast. The Storm have cruised into the finals, they haven’t had a tough clash in recent memory. Yes, they have lost, but the context around those losses means they haven’t been much to worry about in the grand scheme of things.
They were far enough in front of the rest to give their side a rest, a real luxury come this time of year.
Parramatta have been called the worst top-four side in recent memory. It’s harsh but probably true, they came very close to losing last week and having the Raiders jump up into the top four. They have kept the wins coming, but they haven’t been all that convincing.
They have the worst attack of any top-eight side but are in fact ranked third for their defence, something that will need to come to the fore here.
The Storm are at risk of complacency. It is unlikely, especially with Craig Bellamy at the helm, but with the week off and so long since a match of real consequence, it is a chance of happening. We have seen teams start slow in preliminary finals after a week off, and that could well happen here.
The Storm have conceded four tries in each of their last two games in Queensland. It is a small statistic, and in each they have won by a fair amount. But it’s something.
They have clocked off at times over the last month or so in a very “un-Melbourne” way. They have also restructured their defence on the right edge, during games and week-to-week.
The Eels have to go towards that right defensive edge of the Storm, that will be through Jennings, Lane and Maika Sivo. They also have to get the jump on the Storm. If they can’t get a fast start and the Storm get to dictate terms early, then the Eels have next to no chance of coming back.
They also need to be at their best defensively on their own right edge. Blake Ferguson and Waqa Blake have had some real issues this season, and have no doubt that the Storm will be relentless.
You can’t go against the Storm. They have experience. They should be fresh. They are at home, and they have too many good players. The Eels can win, and they can score some points. But it won’t be enough to overcome the Storm.
Storm by 14.
Kick-off: 7:50pm (AEST)
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
TV: Nine, Fox Sports
Live stream: Kayo Sports, Foxtel, NRL Live Pass, 9Now
Odds: Storm $1.18, Eels $5
1. Ryan Papenhuyzen, 2. Suliasi Vunivalu, 3. Brenko Lee, 4. Justin Olam, 5. Josh Addo-Carr, 6. Cameron Munster, 7. Jahrome Hughes, 8. Jesse Bromwich, 9. Cameron Smith, 10. Christian Welch, 11. Felise Kaufusi, 12. Kenneath Bromwich, 13. Nelson Asofa-Solomona
Bench/Reserves: 14. Brandon Smith, 15. Tino Faasuamaleaui, 16. Tom Eisenhuth, 17. Nicho Hynes, 18. Darryn Schonig, 19. Isaac Lumelume, 20. Albert Vete, 21. Ryley Jacks
1. Clint Gutherson, 2. Maika Sivo, 3. Michael Jennings, 4. Waqa Blake, 5. Blake Ferguson, 6. Dylan Brown, 7. Mitchell Moses, 8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard, 9. Reed Mahoney, 10. Junior Paulo, 11. Shaun Lane, 12. Ryan Matterson, 13. Nathan Brown
Bench/Reserves: 14. Will Smith, 15. Andrew Davey, 16. Kane Evans, 17. Marata Niukore, 18. Rya Stone, 19. Brad Takairangi, 20. Oregon Kaufusi, 21. Daniel Alvaro