Nathan Smith previews the second semi-final between the Melbourne Storm and Parramatta Eels.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
Melbourne were on the end of a shock 12-10 loss to the Canberra Raiders after John Bateman scored in the 76th minute to steal the win. They rarely lose two straight and will be raring to go.
Parramatta were nearly perfect last Sunday as they eliminated the Brisbane Broncos 58-0. Though they were brilliant in attack, they will know the opportunities they received that day will not present themselves as often against a defensively strong Storm team.
No changes have been made to the Storm team that lost last week.
Melbourne Storm squad: 1. Ryan Papenhuyzen 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 3. Will Chambers 4. Justin Olam 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Cameron Munster 7. Jahrome Hughes 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. Max King 17. Joe Stimson 18. Curtis Scott 19. Tino Faasuamaleaui 20. Tom Eisenhuth 21. Brodie Croft.
Parramatta have made one change. Kane Evans is back into the starting team after serving a one week suspension, which pushes Daniel Alvaro to the bench.
Parramatta Eels squad:
1. Clint Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Michael Jennings 4. Waqa Blake 5. Blake Ferguson 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Kane Evans 9. Reed Mahoney 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 12. Manu Ma’u 13. Nathan Brown 14. Brad Takairangi 15. Daniel Alvaro 16. Tepai Moeroa 17. Marata Niukore 18. Ray Stone 19. Jaeman Salmon 20. Peni Terepo 21. Josh Hoffman.
HEAD TO HEAD
The last time they met was a night to forget for Parramatta. The Storm thumped them 64-10. Worryingly, this came after a two-point loss to the Sharks, after which Bellamy gave his side a massive spray. Parramatta will be determined to avoid such a result again. Overall, Melbourne have won 22 of their 35 matches against Parramatta, including 5 of their 7 at AAMI Park. If those stats aren’t enough to suggest this game favours the Storm, here’s one: since 1999, the Eels and Storm have met on five occasions during the finals (1999, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2017), but the Eels have yet to defeat them.
Cameron Smith v Reed Mahoney
The battle between the two Queenslanders will help shape this game.
Cameron Smith wasn’t at his best last week, though his performance was by no means a bad one. That said, of all the players in his squad, he has the most experience in big game situations and knows how to win. His stats tell the story, given he holds the record for the most wins of any individual player. He’s played in multiple Origin series deciders, World Cup finals and, of course, NRL finals. This gives him a huge edge against an Eels team that, for the most part, participated in their very first finals match last week. Expect a masterclass on game management from Smith, as he will look to control the game from the very first minute.
Reed Mahoney is a young upcomer who some look to as a future Queensland hooker. He’s shown glimpses of good and bad during 2019; however for the most part he’s been fairly consistent. Mahoney topped the tackle count last week (with 26 tackles) and, more importantly, was extremely efficient with his passing. His service to his halves helped get their sets going and was a big reason for the Eels’ dominance. He had a hand in two tries, offering Moses a superb cut-out ball to put him through, and later on, a short ball to Alvaro to send him crashing over the line. It will take everything this young man has to go up against arguably the greatest hooker of all time in this high-stakes match, but he certainly won’t be shying away from it.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Saturday, 21st of September
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick-off: 7.50pm (local)
Referee: Ben Cummins, Grant Atkins
WHO WILL WIN?
This match won’t be a repeat of their round nine clash. Parramatta is a better team than what they demonstrated that night. Craig Bellamy is too good a coach, and his team far too experienced in this sort of situation, to lose twice in a finals series. Expect Parramatta to push them in a similar fashion to their 2017 finals encounter, but just fall short in the end.
Storm by seven