Andrew Pelechaty previews an epic top four clash between Melbourne and Canberra.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
Melbourne (17-3) were challenged by Souths in a cracking top four battle at Gosford last Sunday. Trailing 12-0, Souths drew level early in the second half. Melbourne kicked away to a 20-12 lead, Souths pulled within a try, before Brodie Croft scored with three minutes left to give Melbourne a 26-16 win. They now hold a six point lead in first with four games left. Barring a massive collapse, the minor premiership is secure.
Canberra’s four-game winning streak ended with a 22-18 loss to the Sydney Roosters at GIO Stadium. Nearly 20,000 packed Bruce on a sunny – but cold – Sunday afternoon to watch Canberra take an early 12-6 lead, fall behind 22-12 in the second half, and rally with a final try to Elliott Whitehead with 15 minutes left. While the Roosters threatened to run away in the second half, Canberra stuck with them. It’s a pleasing sign for the Raiders as they’ll probably play the Roosters again in September. Canberra (13-7) stayed third despite the loss, thanks to a healthy points differential over fourth-placed Souths.
Jahrome Hughes is back at fullback, while Ryan Papenhuyzen replaces Billy Walters on the bench.
Melbourne Storm’s 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. Tui Kamikamica 15. Tino Faasuamaleaui 16. Joe Stimson 17. Ryan Papenhuyzen 18. Max King 19. Tom Eisenhuth 20. Sandor Earl 21. Billy Walters.
BJ Leilua returns from a neck injury, Nick Cotric moves to the wing and Bailey Simonsson is on the bench. Siliva Havili moves to the reserves.
Canberra Raiders’ squad: 1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 2. Nick Cotric 3. Jarrod Croker 4. Joseph Leilua 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Jack Wighton 7. Aidan Sezer 8. Josh Papalii 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Iosia Soliola 11. John Bateman 12. Elliott Whitehead 13. Joseph Tapine 14. Bailey Simonsson 15. Dunamis Lui 16. Corey Horsburgh 17. Ryan Sutton 18. Sam Williams 19. Hudson Young 20. Siliva Havili 21. Emre Guler.
HEAD TO HEAD
Melbourne have dominated Canberra 31-11 since 1998. Canberra’s last win was in 2016, beating the Storm 22-8 in round 23 (two tries to BJ Leilua) during their 10-game winning run to second place. A month later, Canberra were one Edrick Lee catch from winning the preliminary final at AAMI Park, losing 14-12.
Since then, Melbourne have won 20-14 and 32-6 (2017), 44-10 (2018), and 22-10 (2019). Canberra did well to get within 12 points in round 2 this year, with Melbourne jumping to a 16-0 lead early in the second half.
Felise Kaufusi vs John Bateman
A battle of the big International forwards (with big winning records) in Melbourne.
One of the Canberra’s growing number of Englishmen, Bateman has lifted the Raiders to genuine contenders, with 13 wins from his 17 starts. Bateman’s absence from rounds 9-11 saw Canberra lose to the Sydney Roosters, South Sydney and North Queensland. Since his return, Canberra have only lost two games. Personally, Bateman has scored four tries, made 1917 total running metres and a 91.4% per cent tackle efficiency.
Kaufusi has a similar record for Melbourne, with 15 wins from 18 starts, with 1787 total running meters and a 91.2 per cent tackle efficiency. The Storm are easily the most consistent team in the NRL, helped by the big Auckland-born Maroon’s hard work up front. The winner between Batemen and Kaufusi goes a long way to deciding the game.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Saturday 17th August.
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne.
WHO WILL WIN?
Canberra will have learnt a lot from the Roosters loss, and this is their best chance to beat Melbourne since the 2016 preliminary final. The Storm are cruising to another minor premiership, and their recent loss to Manly showed they’re not invincible at home. With a chance to cement their top four spot, Canberra will send a statement in an epic clash.
Canberra by two.