The Melbourne Storm may have wrapped up the 2017 minor premiership last weekend, but with just two weeks before the finals, you can rest assured that coach Craig Bellamy will be wanting them to continue to fine tune their game. The South Sydney Rabbitohs will be looking to derail that plan, and if the past three weeks is anything to go by, they will believe they have a chance of doing just that.
LAST TIME OUT
The Storm took on the rejuvenated Knights in Newcastle last week and things started badly for them. After just the first minute of the game, prop Jesse Bromwich was given a ten minute enforced breather on the sideline for a professional foul. However, the Knights were unable to take full advantage of the situation, as even though they scored a try against the depleted Storm, they gave one back before Bromwich returned. Coach Bellamy apparently wasn’t thrilled with what he saw in the first 40, even though his team led by ten points at the break, and gave his team an almighty spray. It seemed to work too. The clinical Storm powered away from the Knights to win 44-12, with Cooper Cronk clone/replacement Brodie Croft scoring a hat trick.
The Rabbitohs took a while to shake off the New Zealand Warriors last week, but when they did, they left them way behind. With the lead bouncing from one team to the other, it took a 58th minute try from the league’s leading try scorer to put Souths back in front. It was the second of three tries for Alex Johnston in the game, with the third coming at a cost. A torn hamstring just before he crossed the line has ruled Johnston out for the rest of the season. The make-shift fullback has been in outstanding form recently and had been a big reason for Souths’ late season winning streak. As such, he’ll be sorely missed.
Few people would have expected Storm fullback Billy Slater to return to the NRL in the manner that he has. He hasn’t only not missed a step, he actually looks better than ever. And considering he is playing a in a slightly different role defensively by defending in the line at times, this is even more remarkable. Yes, unlike other clubs, his job has been easier with the personnel he has around him, but considering the nature of the injury and the length of time it took for him to recover, you have to dip your cap. But the biggest compliment we can give him is that his return has made those around him look even better as well. It is a big reason why they have been crowned minor premiers already.
Slater will be up against a make-shift fullback in Bryson Goodwin this week after the unlucky injury to inform try scoring sensation, Alex Johnston. That in itself gives Bryson big shoes to fill, but when you’re a fullback playing against the Storm, you just know you’re going to have your work cut out. Goodwin’s positional play will be scrutinised all game by some of the best in the business in Smith and Cronk. If they see an opportunity, simply because of where Goodwin finds himself on the paddock, they will have a crack. Goodwin’s ability to read and defuse the Storm general kicking game will also be under pressure. However, his biggest role will be to try to do what Alex Johnston has been doing very well of late, be in support all over the field to turn a half chance into a scoring play. He’s got his work cut out for him
Souths are not going to be playing finals football and the reasons why raised their head last week when the Rabbitohs struggled to get away from the Warriors. Deficiencies in defence were once again exposed and a reliance on the brilliance of Alex Johnston got them out of trouble. He isn’t there to rely on this time. They are also coming up against a team that is much better disciplined than the Warriors in terms of work rate and defensive attitude. They are also trying to fine tune a finals campaign where anything other than a premiership is a failure. The Storm won’t fail here.
Storm by 14
Storm v Rabbitohs, Saturday 26 August, 5.30pm at AAMI Park
1. Billy Slater 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 3. William Chambers 4. Curtis Scott 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Cameron Munster 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Cameron Smith 10. Jordan McLean 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Joe Stimson 13. Dale Finucane 14. Kenneath Bromwich 15. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 16. Tohu Harris 17. Slade Griffin 18. Tim Glasby 19. Robbie Rochow 20. Jahrome Hughes 21. Nate Myles
1. Bryson Goodwin 2. Campbell Graham 3. Aaron Gray 4. Tyrell Fuimaono 5. Robert Jennings 6. Cody Walker 7. Adam Reynolds 8. Thomas Burgess 9. Damien Cook 10. Sam Burgess 11. John Sutton 12. Angus Crichton 13. Cameron Murray 14. Robbie Farah 15. George Burgess 16. Kyle Turner 17. Zane Musgrove 18. Jack Gosiewski 19. David Tyrrell 20. Siosifa Talakai 21. Dean Britt