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Andrew Pelechaty previews the Melbourne vs Canberra preliminary final at Suncorp Stadium. This is what we have to look forward to.

FORM LINE

Melbourne Storm

Melbourne have been in cruise mode for a over a month: ever since they lost to Parramatta in round 15, they’ve beaten Manly Warringah, South Sydney, North Queensland, and the Wests Tigers. With second place sealed, Melbourne rested their big names against St George Illawarra in the final round. It was a good idea, as the refreshed Storm beat Parramatta 36-24 in the Suncorp Stadium qualifying final (a double to Ryan Papenhuyzen, and singles to Suliasi Vunivalu, Josh Addo-Carr, Jesse Bromwich, and Brenko Lee). With the scores tied 18-18 early in the second half, the game turned with a three-try burst from Melbourne, with the Storm scoring six tries overall. Melbourne will have some extra motivation, with veteran skipper Cameron Smith rumoured to be retiring soon. Could this be his last game?

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Canberra Raiders

Canberra made their third preliminary final in five years, beating the Sydney Roosters 22-18 at the SCG. After a scratchy win over Cronulla-Sutherland, Canberra were on like Donkey Kong at Moore Park, leading 16-0 after 22 minutes (tries to Josh Papalii, George Williams, and Joseph Tapine). The fast start reversed Canberra’s nasty trend of conceding the first try in eight straight games. The Roosters didn’t fold, closing the gap to 16-12 with 20 minutes left. George Williams channelled former English spinner Graeme Swann, with his off-breaking grubber clean bowling James Tedesco (the man who buried the Raiders in last year’s grand final), and Jack Wighton pouncing. Again, the Roosters kept coming, getting within four points with five minutes left, but Canberra hung on for their fifth-straight win.

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SQUAD NEWS

Melbourne Storm

1. Ryan Papenhuyzen 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 3. Brenko Lee 4. Justin Olam 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Cameron Munster 7. Jahrome Hughes 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Cameron Smith 10. Christian Welch 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Kenneath Bromwich 13. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 14. Brandon Smith 15. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui 16. Tom Eisenhuth 17. Nicholas Hynes 18. Dale Finucane 19. Paul Momirovski 20. Ryley Jacks 21. Chris Lewis.

Canberra Raiders

1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 2. Semi Valemi 3. Jarrod Croker 4. Jordan Rapana 5. Nick Cotric 6. Jack Wighton 7. George Williams 8. Josh Papalii 9. Tom Starling 10. Iosia Soliola 11. John Bateman 12. Elliott Whitehead 13. Joseph Tapine 14. Siliva Havili 15. Dunamis Lui 16. Hudson Young 17. Corey Harawira-Naera 18. Sam Williams 19. Matthew Timoko 20. Ryan Sutton 21. Michael Oldfield.

KEY STAT

If ever there was a case to move Melbourne to Queensland, their almost unbeatable record at Lang Park would be exhibit A. While most teams would struggle with playing almost all their home games in another state, Melbourne haven’t missed a beat, with a combined 8-0 record at Lang Park/Sunshine Coast Stadium in 2020. They also had their annual “away” win against the Broncos in round 11.

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Overall, they’ve won 20 from 24 at Lang Park, an incredible record. Their winning percentage (83.3%) is better than the Broncos (60%). The Storm have also won 19 games in a row in Queensland.

Canberra’s record in Brisbane isn’t as good, with two wins from 13 games at Lang Park, 19 from 50 in Queensland, and one from four in Queensland on a Friday. Their last win at Lang Park was in 2010, when they beat the Broncos in the final round to knock them out of the finals – the first time Brisbane had missed them since 1991.

Melbourne and Canberra split their games this year: Canberra beat Melbourne 22-6 at AAMI Park in round three, and Melbourne beat Canberra 20-14 in round nine at Bruce Stadium.

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They’ve also played two big finals recently: the 2016 preliminary final, where Melbourne won 14-12 (with the Raiders ruing THAT drop from Edrick Lee), and Canberra winning the 2019 qualifying final 12-10 with a last-minute try to John Bateman.

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One thing in Canberra’s favour: their tremendous 9-4 away record this season (including their two “home” games at Campbelltown Stadium).

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Expect plenty of light-hearted banter between the coaches this week, with former Raiders teammates Craig Bellamy and Ricky Stuart going head-to-head. While some coaches genuinely hate each other, Bellyache and Sticky are still good mates.

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BATTLE TO WATCH

Josh Addo-Carr vs Nick Cotric

The battle of the wingers (and NSW Origin hopefuls) could decide this one.

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Addo-Carr has had an on-par season so far, with 16 tries from 19 games, with five doubles from round 10 to round 19. As well as potential premiership glory, he’ll be eyeing off a Blues jumper for the November Origin series (having played in 2018 and 2019 series’), so a big push at the business end will help.

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Cotric will be hoping this isn’t his last game in lime green before his off-season move to Belmore. Like Addo-Carr, Cotric will be gunning for a Blues Origin spot, having made his debut last year.

He’s played all 22 games for Canberra in 2020, scoring 12 tries: breaking the Raiders’ 26-year premiership drought (on the 30th anniversary of their 1990 title) would be the perfect farewell.

With both wingers having plenty to play for, this could be an entertaining clash.

GAME DETAILS

While the Storm are well-rested and have an almost unbeatable record in Brisbane, Canberra have one thing on their side: winning momentum.

They’ve won five in a row, with three of those wins away from Canberra, so travel won’t be an issue.

Just like the Roosters game, Canberra will be underdogs, which will suit them perfectly.

With the Raiders just 80 minutes from another grand final, the pain of last year could give them extra motivation.

Canberra by two.

Date: Friday, October 16.
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane.
Kick-off: 7:50pm (AEDT).

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