After a controversial week off the field Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy takes his side up to Townsville to face the desperate North Queensland Cowboys in the Grand Final replay part two for season 2018.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
After looking as though they’d turned the corner by upsetting Penrith two weeks back the Cowboys turned in a disappointing performance against the Tigers in Sydney, but last weekend was a different story against the high-flying Rabbitohs. North Queensland put in one of their better if not their best effort for 2018 and looked to have done enough to secure the win with a late Michael Morgan field goal, but a penalty on full-time gifted Souths an easy kick for goal which broke the hearts of the fans and players alike.
The Storm’s form has been patchy at best this season as last years’ premiers have found life after Cooper Cronk to be difficult, after losing the ‘Grand Final preview’ against the Dragons a few weeks back Melbourne have struggled to pick themselves up and regroup. A scratchy win over the Titans followed by last weeks’ meltdown against Manly has Melbourne at the cross roads in their season with plenty of questions being asked.
Paul Green has been threatening to wield the selection axe all season and he finally let it go by ‘chopping’ Lachlan Coote and Ethan Lowe from his match 17 before kickoff last weekend. The move to deploy Morgan to fullback was an inspired move as the Queensland utility player had his best game of the season. Youngsters Te Marie Martin and Enari Tuala were also good in patches and retain their spots in the side which is unchanged from last week.
Some big ins and big outs for Melbourne this week as they try to move on from the debacle from last weekend, the inclusions of Cameron Smith and Jesse Bromwich are massive and will bring some much-needed leadership to a side that lost their way against Manly. Sam Kasiano also returns for Cameron Welch whilst Curtis Scott misses out due to suspension after being sent off, Ryan Hoffman will also sit out this week apparently being ‘rested’, he is replaced in the starting side by Joe Stimson.
Before a ball was kicked in anger for this season most experts or pundits were backing Melbourne Storm or North Queensland Cowboys to be lifting the Telstra Premiership on the first weekend in October, but as we arrive in Round 12 both sides have experienced difficulties which were unforeseen prior to the season commencing.
It’s hard to put a finger on what’s gone wrong in Cowboy Land except the view that the side looks older and slower than last season, sitting near the bottom of the ladder with just the three wins their season is on life support already. For Melbourne the loss of Cronk has hit them harder than most expected and the side’s poor discipline has also been unexpected from a side coached by the biggest disciplinary in the competition Craig Bellamy.
Another unexpected curve ball for the Storm has been the story that Bellamy is highly considering leaving Melbourne for Brisbane after being ‘apparently’ offered a huge deal to move up North, there’s no doubt the players will be talking about it and time will tell if it has affected the side. The Storm admin will be hoping Bellamy makes his decision soon especially if they have a poor performance this weekend, a saga like this has the potential to derail their season.
As for the football this will be the second meeting of these two sides after Melbourne outlasted North Queensland in Round 3, the game was a tight affair until Melbourne blew them away with some late tries. After losing last years Grand Final, the Round 3 encounter and having their season on the line the Cowboys will not only be in ‘revenge mode’ but ‘survival mode’ as well.
With all the drama surrounding the Storm and Bellamy it’s barely been mentioned that this could likely be the last time two of the games greatest ever players share the same football field together, Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston have been great mates and competitors for over 15 years in the NRL and Representative football but with the Cowboys unlikely to make the finals they’ll likely never face off again. Although they’re both at the end of their careers they still hold the biggest influence over their respective sides and will be looked upon to lead the way and produce the big plays.
Thurston has had a difficult year returning from a serious shoulder injury and his performances have come under question, but Thurston has been the least of the Cowboys’ worries and although he may look a yard slower he is still up there with the leading try assists and line break assists. The man they call J.T. needs his forwards to match the big Storm pack and provide him with some good field position and go forward so he can link up with the likes of Martin and Morgan like he did last week to produce two tries.
Smith will bring calmness and direction to the Storm side which they were desperately lacking last week, the return of Bromwich will also boost them greatly with his absence in recent weeks being under rated by most. Melbourne will look to get a roll on early with their big men giving Smith the chance to get out of dummy half and control the game tempo, the Cowboys will need to make sure this doesn’t happen otherwise the game could get away from them very quickly.
Melbourne have won the last seven meetings between the two sides, the last time the Cowboys won was in 2015 in the Grand Final Qualifier which led to their first ever premiership.
Cowboys: 1 Michael Morgan, 2 Kyle Feldt, 3 Justin O’Neill, 4 Ben Hampton, 5 Antonio Winterstein, 6 Te Maire Martin, 7 Johnathan Thurston (c), 8 Matthew Scott (c), 9 Jake Granville, 10 Scott Bolton, 11 Gavin Cooper, 12 Coen Hess, 13 Jason Taumalolo, 14 Enari Tuala, 15 Shaun Fensom, 16 Corey Jensen, 17 Francis Molo, 18 Ethan Lowe, 19 Lachlan Coote, 20 Sam Hoare, 21 Javid Bowen
Storm: 1 Billy Slater (c), 2 Suliasi Vunivalu, 3 Will Chambers, 4 Young Tonumaipea, 5 Josh Addo-Carr, 6 Cameron Munster, 7 Ryley Jacks, 8 Jesse Bromwich, 9 Cameron Smith, 10 Nelson Asofa-Solomona, 11 Felise Kaufusi, 12 Joe Stimson, 13 Dale Finucane, 14 Brandon Smith, 15 Tim Glasby, 16 Kenny Bromwich, 17 Sam Kasiano, 18 Jahrome Hughes, 19 Christian Welch, 20 Patrick Kaufusi, 21 Justin Olam
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Friday 25th of May
Venue: 1300 Smiles Stadium, Townsville
WHO WILL WIN?
I’ve tossed and turned and changed my mind countless times looking at this game after the contrasting performances from either side last Saturday night, but although the Cowboys played their best football of the season last week the inclusion of Cameron Smith and Jesse Bromwich has leant me towards a Storm victory.