Andrew Pelechaty previews the top four clash between South Sydney and Melbourne at Gosford.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
South Sydney Rabbitohs
South Sydney (13-6) dropped to fourth after a surprise 39-24 loss to Cronulla-Sutherland at Shark Park. Captain Sam Burgess’ return was marred early by a high tackle on Matt Moylan. The Englishman was charged with a Grade 2 Careless High Tackle by the judiciary. Souths were never in the game, though two late tries to Cody Walker and Campbell Graham gave them some respectability. It ended a run of three consecutive wins that arrested a concerning post-Origin slide.
After the Golden Point loss to Manly in round 19, Melbourne (16-3) roared back against Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium, winning 40-4 (seven tries, with two to Kenneath Bromwich). Melbourne love Lang Park (belting Parramatta 64-10 during Magic Round), so it was the perfect place to regain form and extend their minor premiership lead back to six points.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
Souths will play the same 17, despite their ‘worst loss of the year’ to Cronulla. Sam Burgess is free to play after avoiding suspension for his high tackle on Matt Moylan.
South Sydney Rabbitohs’ squad: 1. Adam Doueihi 2. Dane Gagai 3. James Roberts 4. Braidon Burns 5. Campbell Graham 6. Cody Walker 7. Adam Reynolds 8. Tevita Tatola 9. Damien Cook 10. Thomas Burgess 11. John Sutton 12. Sam Burgess 13. Cameron Murray 14. Liam Knight 15. Mark Nicholls 16. Ethan Lowe 17. Kyle Turner 18. Dean Britt 19. Corey Allan 20. Jaydn Su’A 21. Connor Tracey.
Christian Welch is out after a season-ending knee injury, Tui Kamikamica joins the starting 17. No other changes for Storm.
Melbourne Storm squad: 1. Jahrome Hughes 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 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 14. Brandon Smith 15. Tui Kamikamica 16. Joe Stimson 17. Ryan Papenhuyzen 18. Solomone Kata 19. Max King 20. Tino Faasuamaleaui 21. Sandor Earl.
HEAD TO HEAD
While this is their first meeting for 2019 (amazing that it’s taken until round 21 for this to happen), they had a couple of cracking battles in 2018. Souths won 30-20 in round 21 last year at ANZ Stadium, outscoring Melbourne five tries to four. They met in the qualifying final (second vs third) at AAMI Park, with Melbourne winning 29-28. This time it was five tries all, with a Cameron Munster field goal in the 76th minute enough to take Melbourne to the preliminary final. Souths enjoy a 50 per cent winning record as the home team at Gosford, and 46 per cent overall. They’ve won five of their last six at Central Coast Stadium, but are none from two against Melbourne there, last beating the Storm in a Sunday home game in 2003. Their last game at Central Coast was back in round seven last year, beating Canberra 42-22. Overall the Storm lead 25-5 since 1998.
Damien Cook v Cameron Smith.
A big battle in the rakes. Damien Cook has had a great year: with 18 appearances for Souths and a successful Origin campaign for NSW. He’s been willing to do the hard work, playing maximum minutes in almost every game. If Souths are to upset Melbourne, Cook is crucial.
It’s been a emotional few weeks for Cameron Smith, with his 400th game celebration against Cronulla-Sutherland. The Storm have clicked again after a couple of down weeks, so expect Smith to re-focus in the home stretch to the finals. For all of Smith’s accolades and achievements, he won’t be satisfied until he’s lifting the premiership trophy in October.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Sunday 11th August.
Venue: Central Coast Stadium, Gosford.
WHO WILL WIN?
Based on last weekend’s belting of Brisbane, Melbourne’s loss to Manly seems an aberration, while Souths will be hurting after the big loss at Shark Park. Expect the Storm to win comfortably.
Melbourne by 12.