Round 14: Warriors v Melbourne preview
The most unpredictable game of 2021 coming up?
A well-used Central Coast Stadium (playing host to an A-League soccer final just 18 hours prior to Sunday's contest) hosts Sunday's contest between the Warriors and Melbourne, and to be honest - who knows what to make of this one so far out from kickoff?
At the time of writing this preview - before Origin I - the Warriors of course were unaffected by any missing players and so will be largely able to go into this game settled. The only question hanging over their 21 man squad that was named this week will be whether Addin Fonua-Blake - named in the reserves - will make it back into the lineup on game day. All that remains to ponder after that is which Warriors side turns up - the surprise packet that challenges the premiership heavyweights, or the exhausted team that often shows signs of needing to go home?
Melbourne on the other hand, usually go into most games focused and settled. Post-Origin makes it that much harder - coach Craig Bellamy will have plenty to think about once Wednesday night's contest in Townsville is complete. He's named Addo-Carr, Munster, Kaufusi, Grant and Welch, along with an approved 6-man reserves list to help cover any losses.
In bad news though - he's already lost prop-forward Nelson Asofa-Solomona. He unsuccessfully challenged a Contrary Conduct charge and sits out this week's game. Thankfully, Reimis Smith (who challenged a Careless High Tackle charge) was cleared to play.
So the story here really is - this one is just an unpredictable mess. Form and class should dictate that Melbourne win, but ultimately it may just come down to how settled the lineup is going into this one.
Looking back at the Warriors - they might also be buoyed by some inspiring news, with the Auckland-based club announcing this week they're headed home for a one-off game at Mt Smart in Round 22, where they'll host the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs. The news of their impending return to their long-missed home may just be the tonic they need to break what is an absurdly-long losing streak against their opponents, with their last win against the Storm coming way back in 2015.
Who to watch: After spending a month on the wing, 2019 Dally M medal winner Roger Tuivasa-Sheck returns to his favoured fullback position with a suspension sidelining break-out rookie Reece Walsh. Whether he takes time or adjust or just gets on with the job will no doubt have a significant impact on how the Warriors stand up to the might of the Storm.
With the return of Ryan Papenhuyzen imminent for Melbourne, this could be one of the last times we get to see Nicho Hynes play a full match in the custodian role. The Cronulla-bound fullback has attracted plenty of attention in recent weeks for some superb performances, and along with other members of the spine - namely Jahrome Hughes and Brandon Smith - will vital to keeping the Storm outfit stable heading into this one, regardless of which Origin stars back up on Sunday.
My tip: While this definitely represents a danger game for the Storm, it's hard to tip against them. They'll win this, but the margin will depend on how many of their Origin cohort are able to back up. Melbourne by 10.