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Preliminary Final 1 preview: Storm v Broncos
Refreshed Storm battle Broncos for grand final berth
After a dominant 2017 campaign, it all comes down to this for the Melbourne Storm. The Storm finished the regular season six points ahead of the nearest competition. Yet, the NYC Cronulla Sharks epitomised the fact that finals footy is a different beast after they were bundled out of the finals last week, despite finishing seven points above the second placed Panthers. It would be a cruel blow if Craig Bellamy's men were to miss this year's decider given their overwhelming success this year. However, Melbourne will need to rediscover their regular season form this week if they are intent on progressing as they will have to prepare for a Broncos outfit who proved last week that they can certainly match the Storm defensively. The Storm do have history on their side though, having won 22 of their past 27 meetings with Brisbane. Bellamy has named the same seventeen that downed Parramatta 18-16 a fortnight ago.
Meanwhile, the Broncos are set to be boosted by the return of fullback Darius Boyd and forward Tevita Pangai-Junior on Friday night. Without them, however, Wayne Bennett's men displayed all the traits of premiership contenders last week, holding out a persistent Penrith team 13-6. What made the victory even more impressive was the fact that Brisbane finished with just one fit player on the bench, losing Corey Oates, Sam Thaiday and Jai Arrow to concussion. Despite their defensive stoicism, Bennett will demand more from his players this weekend as they face an immediate step up in class against the Storm, who are a far more polished attacking outfit than Penrith. In addition, Brisbane's 69% completion rate would have certainly be of concern in this week's video review session.
Last meeting: Round 17 2017 - Broncos 12 Storm 42
Broncos fans may want to look away if they are looking for reasons to be confident of victory on Friday night. The last time these two sides met it was all Melbourne, running out 42-12 winners at Suncorp Stadium in Round 17.
Last Finals Meeting: First Preliminary Final 2009 - Storm 40 Broncos 10
Surprisingly, despite featuring in multiple finals series since, the Broncos and Storm only last met in finals footy in 2009. Then, it was the Storm prevailing 40-10 in the First Preliminary Final in Melbourne.
Who to watch: For the home side, all eyes will be on five-eighth Cameron Munster, who starred in Melbourne's 42-12 win over Brisbane earlier this year. Munster had a hand in three tries within the first sixteen minutes of the game, while also finishing with a line break and 111 running metres. Munster will look to make it up for his teammates this week after he was sin-binned in their clash with Parramatta a fortnight ago.
For the Broncos, they will need the enigmatic Anthony Milford to be at his best if they are a chance of breaking the impenetrable Melbourne defence. Milford threatened to break the line on multiple occasions with his swift footwork last week. His creativity will need to be on full display against the Storm on Friday night, however, given that their defence is even stronger than that of the brave Panthers.
The favourite: The Storm are heavy favourites to qualify for their second-straight Grand Final.
My tip: After their defensive effort last week, the Broncos are certainly better than the $3.85 they are currently paying. However, they just lack the execution in attack that is critical in toppling a Storm side that gives their opponents little chances. Storm by 4.
1. Billy Slater 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 3. William Chambers 4. Curtis Scott 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Cameron Munster 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Cameron Smith 10. Jordan McLean 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Tohu Harris 13. Dale Finucane 14. Kenneath Bromwich 15. Tim Glasby 16. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 17. Slade Griffin
1. Darius Boyd 2. Corey Oates 3. James Roberts 4. Tautau Moga 5. Jordan Kahu 6. Anthony Milford 7. Kodi Nikorima 8. Sam Thaiday 9. Ben Hunt 10. Adam Blair 11. Alex Glenn 12. Matt Gillett 13. Josh Mcguire 14. Benji Marshall 15. Tevita Pangai 16. Joe Ofahengaue 17. Herman Essese
Referees: Matt Cecchin, Ben Cummins; Sideline Officials: Brett Suttor, Chris Butler; Video Referees: Ashley Klein, Ben Galea;