Andrew Pelechaty previews the qualifying final replay at AAMI Park.
Before the COVID-19 postponement, Melbourne were comfortably sitting in the top four after wins against Manly-Warringah and Cronulla-Sutherland. Both games had dour first halves, with the Storm skipping away against Manly with three second half tries. The Cronulla game was tighter, with a try to Tui Kamikamica in the 70th minute sealing it for Melbourne. This is the Storm’s first home game of the year, and they will feel fortunate to to be playing at AAMI Park, even though no crowds are allowed yet.
Canberra were hurt by the COVID-19 postponement. They had recorded comfortable wins over the Gold Coast and the NZ Warriors, and were set to play St. George-Illawarra at Bruce in the original round three, and a likely 3-0 start to the year. Now their new “home” is Campbelltown Stadium (at least until round nine) and they’ve let Jack Murchie, Luke Bateman, and JJ Collins go. Not to mention the contract rumours around John Bateman, which has more twists than a horrible soap opera. At least the Raiders have a decent recent track record at AAMI Park, beating the Storm there twice in a month last year. Josh Papalii will finally play his 200th NRL match after being stuck on 199 for over two months.
1. Ryan Papenhuyzen 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 3. Justin Olam 4. Marion Seve 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. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui 16. Christian Welch 17. Max King 18. Tom Eisenhuth 19. Brenko Lee 20. Ryley Jacks 21. Darryn Schonig.
1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 2. Bailey Simonsson 3. Jarrod Croker 4. Curtis Scott 5. Nick Cotric 6. Jack Wighton 7. George Williams 8. Josh Papali’i 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Dunamis Lui 11. Joseph Tapine 12. Elliott Whitehead 13. Corey Horsburgh 14. Siliva Havili 15. Emre Guler 16. Iosia Soliola 17. Michael Oldfield 18. Jordan Rapana 19. Matt Frawley 20. Kai O’Donnell 21. Tom Starling.
The Storm have the wood over Canberra, with a 31-12 record since 1998 (and a 16-7 record on a Saturday). Last year, Melbourne beat Canberra in round two at Bruce, before Canberra beat Melbourne 22-18 (round 22) and 12-10 (qualifying final) at AAMI Park. The round 22 win was incredible, with the Raiders coming back from an 18-0 deficit, which proved they were a serious top four contender. The qualifying final was even tighter, with Canberra keeping the Storm scoreless for the last half-hour, a testament to the Raiders’ improved defence in 2019.
BATTLE TO WATCH
Jack Wighton v Cameron Munster
After a career-best 2019 (successfully shifting to five-eighth, winning the Clive Churchill Medal, and making his Origin and Test debut), 2020 is Wighton’s chance to consolidate, and hopefully (for him) lead Canberra to a drought-breaking premiership. A match-up against Munster will test him, especially after the enforced break. Munster, a current Queensland Maroon and Kangaroo, is the yardstick in arguably the NRL’s most consistent team. Whoever wins this battle will win the game for their team.
Probably the best time to play the Storm is right now, especially as there haven’t been any formal warm-up games due to the virus. The Storm will try to exploit the new lone referee by trying to niggle in the ruck, which will upset Canberra, though will the Storm’s home ground advantage be diluted by an empty stadium? The team who defends the best will win this one. The rustiness of both teams could benefit Canberra, and they might just squeeze home in this one.
Canberra by two.
Date: Saturday May 30.
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne.