Andrew Pelechaty previews the elimination final between Melbourne and Canberra …
MATCHDAY TEAM NEWS
Related: NRL Team List TuesdayEmbed from Getty Images
Storm: 1. Nick Meaney 2. David Nofoaluma 3. Marion Seve 4. Justin Olam 5. Xavier Coates 6. Cameron Munster 7. Jahrome Hughes 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Harry Grant 10. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Kenny Bromwich 13. Josh King 14. Brandon Smith 15. Tui Kamikamica 16. Trent Loiero 17. Chris Lewis 18. Young Tonumaipea 19. Jordan Grant 20. Tepai Moeroa 21. Cooper Johns 22. Grant Anderson
Jahrome Hughes is back after missing Round 25; Kenny Bromwich and Nick Meaney have been named after injury concerns against Parramatta.Embed from Getty Images
Raiders: 1. Xavier Savage 2. Nick Cotric 3. Matthew Timoko 4. Sebastian Kris 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Jack Wighton 7. Jamal Fogarty 8. Josh Papali’i 9. Zac Woolford 10. Joseph Tapine 11. Hudson Young 12. Elliott Whitehead 13. Adam Elliott 14. Tom Starling 15. Emre Guler 16. Corey Horsburgh 17. Corey Harawira-Naera 18. Albert Hopoate 19. Ata Mariota 20. Matt Frawley 21. Peter Hola 22. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad
Jack Wighton and captain Elliott Whitehead – both rested for the Wests Tigers game after the Dragons ensured Canberra would finish eighth – are back for the elimination final. Corey Harawira-Naera goes back to the bench. There were rumours of Josh Hodgson making a shock return to the extended bench, but it didn’t happen.
Referee: Grant Atkins
As rare a feat as Zooey Deschanel without her famous bangs, Melbourne enter this finals series in sudden-death mode. For just the fourth time under Craig Bellamy (not counting 2010 when they were barred from earning premiership points), they’ve missed the top four. Their last elimination final was in 2014, when they finished sixth and lost to eventual grand grand finalists Canterbury-Bankstown.
By contrast, Canberra is lucky to make it this far. Their season looked all but over after the Round 21 “weak-gutted dog” loss to Penrith and wasn’t helped by scratchy wins over Newcastle and St George Illawarra. Then, Brisbane’s collapse (losing 60-12 to Melbourne and 53-6 to Parramatta) opened the door. And for once the Milk responded, belting Manly Warringah 48-6, giving Canberra a vital +43 differential advantage. Entering the final round, nearly every Raiders fan jumped on the Dragons bandwagon, and were rewarded when the Red V beat Brisbane to seal Canberra’s finals spot. The Milk celebrated with a 56-10 thrashing of the Wests Tigers.
Canberra will have no fears travelling to Melbourne as they’re riding a four-game winning run at AAMI since 2019 (including the 2019 Qualifying Final win). Though Melbourne have enjoyed their own winning run in Canberra and Queensland since then, including a 30-10 win in the 2020 Preliminary Final.
So, are Canberra are a chance of making it five straight? Probably not, as Bellamy would be furious with Melbourne dropping their usually high standards and will do everything to ensure they’re ready. The Storm had bounced back from a four-game losing streak with a four-game winning run between Round 20 and 23, including beating Penrith 16-0 at Panthers Stadium, before losing to the Sydney Roosters and Parramatta.
While Canberra have scored 104 points in the last fortnight, it was against two struggling sides with nothing to play for; though winning momentum is important, it’s like finding the secret warp pipe in World 1 of Super Mario Bros and going straight to World 4.
All the pressure will be on Melbourne here: a loss will be seen as a huge failure based on their high standards, while the lack of pressure on an in-form Canberra may work in their favour, especially if they keep it close.Embed from Getty Images
The long-running friendship between Craig Bellamy and Ricky Stuart is always a big part of the Storm v Raiders games: whether they’re sharing a beer in the sheds (like after the 2020 Preliminary Final at Lang Park) or trading good-natured barbs in the media, the bond between the former Raiders teammates (Stuart 1988–98; Bellamy 1982–92) is rare in the cut-throat modern game.
Raiders by 2
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