Full Time
8:05pm Thu March 11, 2021
Round 1 - AAMI Park, Melbourne - Crowd: 11812

Round 1: Storm v Rabbitohs preview

The NRL is back as the season kicks off with a blockbuster clash between the defending premiers the Melbourne Storm and the South Sydney Rabbitohs.

AAMI Park is set to host the opening clash of 2021 as it welcomes fans through its doors for the first time since the end of the 2019 season. 50 per cent of the total 30,050 capacity will be allowed for the opening game of the season as Melbourne fans will flock to see their side play live for the first time since 2019.

Funnily enough, the last game that AAMI Park hosted was a clash between these two sides in Round four last year with Melbourne come out on top as 14-point victors. It's an exciting matchup between the two favourites to win the competition, who could ask for a better season opener?

Firstly, the Melbourne Storm will get their first glimpse of life after Cameron Smith, as the 433-gamer is yet to publicly state is intentions for the 2021 season. Harry Grant was going to be the man in the number nine jersey in his first start for the Storm, but a knee injury will keep him out for the first few weeks of the season. Fortunately, the Storm are not short of replacements in the hooker position, with New Zealand hooker Brandon Smith starting in the number nine for Round 1.

Despite the change at hooker for the 2021 season, the Storm spine will still feature Ryan Papenhuyzen, Cameron Munster and Jahrome Hughes who lit the competition up with their brilliant ad-lib play as they helped their side to another premiership.

15 of the selected 17 for the Storm featured in last year's premiership campaign, the two new players are George Jennings and Reimis Smith who played for the Warriors/Parramatta and Canterbury respectively in 2020. They will feature on the same edge together which could be an area that the Rabbitohs would like to attack on Thursday night.

South Sydney will be rearing to start 2021 on the highest note possible, defeating the defending premiers. The Rabbitohs have named a strong team all the way from one through to 17 with club debuts for Josh Mansour, Jacob Host, Benji Marshall and Jai Arrow.

Souths' will be looking to build on their preliminary final loss to Penrith last year as they hope to send out Wayne Bennett with another premiership. Someone that the Rabbitohs' missed during the 2020 finals series was Latrell Mitchell, named at fullback this week will be pivotal for Souths' this year.

Mitchell, one of the most exciting players in the competition, will have his work cut out for him on Thursday night as Melbourne's halves will test out his hamstring by making the fullback run from corner to corner fetching balls as the Storm try and pin him down in his own half. On the other hand, his existing combinations with the Rabbitohs' spine could prove deadly if the execution is on point.

Last meeting: Round 17 2020 - Rabbitohs 16 Storm 22

Who to watch: The big matchup for Thursday night's clash is the battle of the two number sixes. Cody Walker and Cameron Munster, both represent their respective states in their position will be two to watch as they face each other at AAMI Park. Munster had an exceptional finish to 2020 with one of the all-time great Origin performances as he capped off an incredible season which saw him assist eight tries during his 18 games for the Storm. His opposite number, Walker had arguably his best year of his career to date with the 31-year-old assisting 21 tries for Souths' whilst also scoring 10 himself. Both players were considered the best in the game at some stage during the 2020 season due to their brilliant ad-lib footy and as a result are two of the most exciting players currently in the competition. It's set to be a blockbuster clash to open the season and the battle between these two players will be enthralling to watch.

The favourite: Melbourne are the favourites for this fixture and rightfully so after their dominant performances during the 2020 season. They beat the Rabbitohs twice during the 2020 season and will be expecting to do so again as they push for back-to-back premierships.

My tip: South Sydney are going to give the Storm a run for their money, but I can't see the Storm being knocked off at home in front of a Melbourne crowd for the first time in nearly two years, especially with the form the Storm ended with last season. Storm by 6.