2 days ago
Storm v Raiders preview - 2017 Round 26
Melbourne Storm look to finish the regular season on a high as they entertain a Raiders team that has finally put out of it's misery as their finals dream is kaput.
Much of the talk in the last month of the competition, has been about the minor premiers, whether anyone can stop them on their relentless march to a third premiership. That status is well founded with the brilliance of their big three combined with the aerial brilliance of SuliasiVunivalu and Josh Addo-Car with their combined 41 tries this season makes for a tough ask.
The Storm's forward pack is the unsung heroes of this campaign. The forward unit has absorbed the loss of Kevin Proctor well, as Jordan McLean and FeliseKaufusi have stepped into the breach. Both men are in the top ten for run metres for the Storm side, 2419 and 2050, respectively which makes for a tantilising prospect against a hulking Raiders park.
It is a miracle Raiders coach Ricky Stuart has any hair left - the frustration of this 2017 campaign would be enough for any coach to go bald - the team from the nation's capital lost eight games by less than a converted try so the team many anointed the favourites for this season stare down the barrel of another wasted season.
One bright spark in a disappointing season for the Raiders is youngster NickCotric. The strapping winger has 16 tries in his rookie season and the combination he has struck up quickly, with captain Jarrod Croker down that left side has balanced out the Raiders attack that favoured the Leipana side thus far - granted Rapana has still had a stellar year with 20 four-pointers himself.
Outside of their explosive backline though, the problems for the Raiders has come from the spine - Blake Austin, Jack Wighton, Aidan Sezar and English hooker, Josh Hodgson have failed to scale the heights of the preliminary final last season. If they can click into gear for the final time in 2017, they may trouble a Storm side looking further into the horizon.
Last meeting: Round 20 2017 - Raiders 14 Storm 20
Who to watch: The race is on! Suliasi Vunivalu sits equal with Alex Johnston for the top try-scorer award this season on 22 meat pies, so the high-flying Fijian just needs to cross once to claim the award. Four of the top five try-scorers do feature in Saturday night's clash so if the game breaks down it could come down to who can feed their winger more ball, and I wouldn't bet against Cronk and Smith.
While this might be the end of the regular season for the Raiders, some of their side will still harbour ideas of playing in the forthcoming Rugby League World Cup. Two of those are English pair Josh Hodgson and Elliott Whitehead, while 2017 hasn't reached the heady heights of last season, Whitehead has chewed up near 1900 metres for the season and found the line five times in 24 rounds. For Hodgson, at times, the hooker has played a lone hand for the Raiders and should be the incumbent English hooker for their first game against Australia in late October.
The favourite: Melbourne by the length of the straight. They put 60 points on the Rabbitohs last weekend at home and once they are in the mood, the scoreline can be anything, especially against a team with nothing to play for.
My tip: Storm by 24.
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 14. Kenneath Bromwich 16. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 17. Slade Griffin 18. Robbie Rochow 21. Nate Myles
1. Jack Wighton 2. Nick Cotric 3. Jarrod Croker 4. Joseph Leilua 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Blake Austin 7. Aidan Sezer 8. Junior Paulo 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Shannon Boyd 11. Josh Papalii 15. Joseph Tapine 16. Dave Taylor 12. Elliot Whitehead 13. Iosia Soliola 14. Kurt Baptiste 17. Luke Bateman
Referees: Grant Atkins, Dave Munro; Sideline Officials: Chris McMillan, Jason Walsh; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell, Luke Patten;