Mitch Dransfield previews a top eight rivalry game between the Melbourne Storm and Manly Sea Eagles in round nineteen at AAMI Park.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
Melbourne took a trip up to the Gold Coast to clash with the Titans in a first verse last scenario. The Storm were without five of their Origin players. A quick start by the Coast had the Storm rattled after six minutes, and it continued to be a high-scoring affair for the majority of the match with a halftime scoreline of 22-18. A tighter performance by Melbourne was shown in the second half, running away with the contest 38-18.
On Sunday afternoon the Sea Eagles hosted Parramatta in an old rivalry fixture that saw fifth against sixth. A even back-and-forth match was had in the opening 15 minutes before the floodgates opened for Manly, who had bashed the Eels to allow their backline players to cause havoc. The home side posted four tries in eleven minutes during the first half to then grind out the rest of the match in the second stanza to win comfortably 36-24.
Josh Addo-Carr’s returns while Sandor Earl retains his spot on the other wing with Suliasi Vunivalu (suspended). Origin stars Will Chambers, Cameron Munster, Felise Kaufusi and Christian Welch also return after a rest with Marion Seve and Tui Kamikamica dropping out and Ryan Papenhuyzen and Joe Stimson revert to the interchange.
Squad: 1. Jahrome Hughes 2. Sandor Earl 3. Will Chambers 4. Justin Olam 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Cameron Munster 7. Brodie Croft 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Cameron Smith 10. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Kenneath Bromwich 13. Dale Finucane Interchange: 14. Brandon Smith 15. Christian Welch 16. Joe Stimson 17. Ryan Papenhuyzen Reserves: 18. Marion Seve 19. Tui Kamikamica 20. Tom Eisenhuth 21. Tino Faasuamaleaui.
Des Hasler stays with the same team that won against the Eels last Sunday.
Special mention: Martin Taupau’s 150th NRL Match
Squad: 1. Tom Trbojevic 2. Jorge Taufua 3. Moses Suli 4. Brad Parker 5. Reuben Garrick 6. Dylan Walker 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Addin Fonua-Blake 9. Manase Fainu 10. Martin Taupau 11. Joel Thompson 12. Curtis Sironen 13. Jake Trbojevic Interchange: 14. Lachlan Croker 15. Corey Waddell 16. Morgan Boyle 17. Taniela Paseka Reserves: 18. Cade Cust 19. Brendan Elliot 20. Jack Gosiewski 21. Lloyd Perrett
HEAD TO HEAD
A modern era rivalry that has every footy fan knowing what to expect when these two sides meet. Melbourne and Manly always hate each other after featuring in many finals matches over the years and heated battles that result in an entertaining spectacle. The two matches last year both had everything: the first going down to the wire with a 14-13 win by the Storm away, while the Sea Eagles withstood a brain snap by Melbourne players in their fixture – which saw four sin bins and one send off – which Manly won 24-4 at AAMI Park.
The key match up will likely be between the big bodies of the prop forwards for both sides, the dynamic duo of Addin Fonua-Blake and Martin Taupau against the experience of Jesse Bromwich and Nelson Asofa-Solomona through the middle.
There has been no surprises with Melbourne’s form in 2019, and it’s thanks to the pair of New Zealand props that stay in the middle with Cameron Smith. Dominating sides through the middle with their high quality play using their footwork, strong defence and deceptively great ball playing has produced the much-needed punch that the Storm loves to then use to pile on the points, but also limit their opposition’s chances. Bromwich has totalled 660 post contact metres along with an averaged 131 run metres while being a key leader for the pack and helping Nelson. Asofa-Solomona is in career best form, becoming one of the best in the league. His starts to games are up there with the best, demolishing sides early and allowing his side to run away early with points.
A huge factor to Manly’s unseen rise this season has been off the back of their unstoppable props in Taupau and Fonua-Blake; these representative forwards have taken their game to new heights, eliminating silly indiscretions and errors to now see them as the best combination of props that the league should be fearful of. Having both been at the club for sometime now the style of play that the Sea Eagles generate suits their playstyle – hard direct running by both with the skill to offload or find the pass inside them to their playmakers is top tier. If Manly are to upset the ladder leaders down in Melbourne, Taupua will need to lead with example in his 150th match as he has all season bashing through opponents along pinpoint offloading – which he has created 31 – of that exhaust teams defences. Fonua-Blake has been on of the most improved this campaign, his work rate has climbed and involvement too, creating lovely go forward with an average of 12 hit ups which has helped the Sea Eagles excel in their matches.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Saturday, 27th July
Venue: AAMI Park
Referee: Grant Atkins
WHO WILL WIN?
This will be another blockbuster between arch rivals, the stage is set with both sides looking ready for a good run from here until finals with the Storm at their best like they have the past few seasons and Manly returning to the Des Hasler football that also saw them dominate the NRL over a long period. A brutal bashing game plan will be seen by each outfit with high completions and minimal errors throughout the match, this could end in single digits to both sides, however, the slight advantage to Melbourne is that they have rested their stars to now come back fresh for this round and it could either be perfect timing or have them out of rhythm.
The Sea Eagles will need to play their best footy of the year. using their phenomenal push through the middle third of the field to open up their edges and scramble defence on goal line if they are to beat the benchmark of 2019. Storm need to keep it simple and back their judgement, if they fall into playing like Manly in this match it could spell trouble and bring scores closer than they would like, in saying that the home side should be too clinical across the park and scrape a win in a tight contest.
Prediction: Storm by 4