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NRL Finals match preview: Melbourne Storm vs Canterbury Bulldogs

Date: Sunday 14th September, 2014
Venue: AAMI Park
Kick-off: 4:10pm

Teams

Melbourne Storm: Billy Slater, Sisa Waqa, Will Chambers, Mahe Fonua, Marika Koroibete, Ben Roberts, Cooper Cronk, Jesse Bromwich, Cameron Smith, Bryan Norrie, Kevin Proctor, Ryan Hoffman, Ryan Hinchcliffe. Interchange: Tim Glasby, Tohu Harris, Junior Moors, Jordan McLean, Dayne Weston, Justin O’Neill

Canterbury Bulldogs: Sam Perrett, Corey Thompson, Josh Morris, Timoteo Lafai, Mitch Brown, Josh Reynolds, Trent Hodkinson, Aiden Tolman, Michael Ennis, James Graham, Josh Jackson, Tony Williams, Greg Eastwood. Interchange: Dale Finucane, David Klemmer, Frank Pritchard, Moses Mbye, Reni Maitua, Harlan Alaalatoa, Pat O’Hanlon

Form

Home Team

Rd 26 – Broncos (H) W 22-12
Rd 25 – Roosters (A) L 12-24
Rd 24 – Panthers (A) W 24-10
Rd 23 – Sharks (H) W 48-6
Rd 22 – Knights (A) L 30-32

Away Team

Rd 26 – Titans (A) L 18-19
Rd 25 – Rabbitohs (H) L 21-14
Rd 24 – Wests Tigers (H) W 30-10
Rd 23 – Eels (A) W 18-16
Rd 22 – Broncos (A) L 10-41

Preview

The season started with a great deal of promise for the Canterbury Bulldogs, however it looks set to end prematurely as they head to AAMI park to face the Melbourne Storm in the first week of the 2014 NRL finals series.

The Bulldogs have limped into the finals on the back of their early season form, highlighted by their last start loss to the Gold Coast Titans, where they blew an early 18 point lead to eventually go down in extra time.

The Storm on the other hand have coasted along this season, and once again look like they can beat anyone on their day. The concern this season has been finding that top gear, which has seen them slip to some unlikely losses at times.

This week, the Melbourne side will be sweating on the fitness of captain Cameron Smith, who is nursing an injured ankle around the clock in order to be fit for the match. Lose Smith, and the Dogs are back in with a sniff, however it will take a lot to keep the captain out of the side. The injury may in fact prove a blessing in disguise, taking the focus off the rest of the Melbourne team, and keeping the pressure boiler down.

When they were leading the competition, the Bulldogs were playing a simple game, using their big forwards to bash holes in the middle, which in turn allowed the space for their creative halves. Other teams have shown more willingness to meet them at their own game, and as a result the go forward for the Belmore side has fallen.

Five Eight Josh Reynolds in one player who is particularly struggling as a result of the falling meterage from his forwards. The NSW State of Origin player has been a frustrated man, which has cost his side, with Reynolds receiving a three week suspension for two separate incidents that occurred in round 22. This kind of ill discipline has been costly for the Canterbury side, relieving pressure and giving cheap field position to opposition sides.

If Melbourne are given a chance, they are a side with the ability to capitalise, particularly from the creativity provided by halfback Cooper Cronk, last year’s Dally M medallist.

The wealth of experience in the Storm side, particularly in the ‘big three’ of Cronk, Smith and fullback Billy Slater, gives the Melbourne side a huge edge when it comes to big matches. It is this big game experience that allows the Storm to keep their heads in pressure situations.

The Canterbury side have nothing to lose, going into the clash at long odds to win. However, their coach loves his team flying under the radar, and will have the side well prepared this week, knowing they need to lift their intensity in order to win.

Expect the Storm side to soak up some early pressure from the Bulldogs before getting the job done in the second half, much like they did against Brisbane last week.

Previous Meetings This Season

The two sides met twice throughout the regular season, with the points going the way of the Bulldogs on both occasions. The first occasion, in round 4, highlighted the importance of Smith to the Storm side, with his side belted 40-12 in his absence. It was a slow start to the season for the Storm, who looked uncharacteristically out of sorts to open 2014.

Smith was present for the return fixture at AAMI park, however the Storm still failed to overcome the Bulldogs, going down 6-4 in a dour affair in atrocious conditions.

These results will give the Bulldogs confidence they can get the job done against their fancied rivals.

Prediction

Melbourne by 10.

Sam Dasey studied a Bachelor of Sports Media at UC, graduating at the end of 2013. He has undertaken internships with Canberra Times and Touch Football Australia, as well as a local radio station in Canberra.

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