MELBOURNE V CANBERRA Saturday night, AAMI Park
This game will toss up the best attacking team versus the best defensive team with the winner to progress to next week’s Grand Final.
Canberra have clearly been the best attacking side with the ball in 2016 while the same could be said for Melbourne in a defensive capacity. The Minor Premiers are contesting their second straight Preliminary Final at AAMI Park and are coming into this fresh off a week’s rest after being North Queensland in Week 1 of the finals. The Green Machine dropped their home game in the opening week of the finals to Cronulla but stopped the six-game winning streak of the Panthers last Saturday night.
Craig Bellamy’s outfit secured top spot at the end of the regular season thanks to some staunch defence. Conceding an average of 12.8ppg, Melbourne’s success was also largely thanks to their form at home where they won all but two games this season. Their only losses were to the Bulldogs (18-12, rd 6) and Broncos (26-16, rd 25).
GREEN MACHING STARTS TO ROLL
While many will credit Canberra’s appearance in this week’s Prelim Final to their brilliant attack (27.8ppg), it must be observed that their form on the road has also had a big part to play. They are aiming for six straight wins away from the nation’s capital since 1995 and have won three of their last five at AAMI Park.
HOW IT PANS OUT
The Raiders have been one of the surprise packets of the competition and had a very strong run in to the finals, winning 10 straight prior to losing to Cronulla in Week 1. Their attack during this run has been sensational and was only held to less than 20 points once and that was when they lost 16-14 a fortnight ago.
Jordan Rapana and Joey Leilua have formed a lethal combination down their side of the field with 29 tries between them and were highly influential in knocking off Melbourne back in Round 23.
On that occasion Canberra outplayed Melbourne for large stretches of their clash in Monday Night Football, eventually running out 22-8 winners. That game was also the first time Melbourne had conceded more than 20 points in a match this season.
They say defence will always beat attack in the long run and if that is the case the Storm are well on their way to their first Grand Final since 2012.
While their record at AAMI Park during the regular season has been great, it doesn’t read as well in finals games with just four wins from eight appearances. Their strike rate drops even further when taking into account Prelim Finals at the venue – just one win from three (v Manly, 40-12 in 2012).
When these teams last met approximately six weeks ago it signaled the arrival of Canberra as a true premiership threat. Not only did their unorthodox style of play disrupt the Storm, but they repelled repeat sets of six on their line to eventually wear down Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith and co.
The big question is do they have enough left in the tank to do the double over Melbourne for the first time in 16 years?
In these games big game experience counts for a lot and the Storm have that in spades with Cronk, Smith and coach Bellamy all seasoned campaigners when it comes to these situations. With a week’s rest it makes them even harder to beat but it must be remembered they lost to the Cowboys at this stage of the season just 12 months ago.
We can feel an upset brewing in this one and are willing to take the gamble on this exciting Canberra side to get through to their first Grand Final since 1994.
Their youthful exuberance and tendency to play with no fear will carry them a fair way in this but their success will be heavily reliant on hooker Josh Hodgson and half Blake Austin. If they have good games then the Storm will struggle to knock them off.
HEAD TO HEAD tip: Canberra ($3.15 UNIBET) – they have won four of the past eight games against Melbourne, the second best record of any team beside Canterbury.
MARGIN: 1-12 ($4 William Hill). Since 2010 a pattern of double figure / single figure margins for the winning team has emerged. Canberra won by 14 earlier in the year, so a single figure margin is due up this time.
EXOTIC BET: Joey Leilua 1st Tryscorer ($17 Sportsbet). The rampaging Canberra centre has enjoyed a career-best season and has nine tries in 10 matches against the Storm including a double the last time they played in Round 23.