NRL Round 7: Anzac Day Storm v Warriors Preview
It took a Latrell Mitchell special to end the Storm’s unbeaten season – are the Warriors about to cop Melbourne’s frustration?
Melbourne Storm v New Zealand Warriors – AAMI Park 7:50pm
It was hyped as the game of the season and the Storm-Roosters Grand Final rematch exceeded expectations. The Roosters – just like last September – blitzed the Storm in the game’s opening stages but this time the Storm was able to turn the tide almost entirely. From 20-0 down after 37 minutes, Melbourne returned serve racking up 20 unanswered points in the next 16 minutes. After a combined 40 points in 57 minutes, the rest of the game returned to the grinding style expected pre-game. Melbourne still had momentum on their side but all they had to show for it were two Brodie Croft field goal misses. They lost the golden point coin toss and a missed Dale Finucane tackle – his first after 35 straight tackles – in the opening extra time set suddenly flipped the Roosters territory and allowed Latrell Mitchell to boot a 40m field goal and finally sink the Storm.
Melbourne had spoken pre-game of wanting to avoid a slow start to the Roosters game but was unable to convert intention into action. But they continued to show their competitive spirit in yet another comeback and this came from a Cameron Smith masterclass. The veteran hooker seized control of the game’s speed and became the Storm’s biggest attacking threat – not bad for a 35-year-old. Curtis Scott made his injury return and did as he could to contain Mitchell which is becoming one of the worst marking assignments in the competition. Scott copped a trademark Mitchell fend leading to a first-half try but the NSW hopeful did get one back in the second half, using his wiles to scoot from dummy half a metre out directly where Mitchell – still recovering from a goal-line tackle- was meant to be in the defensive line. Christian Welch also had a hugely impressive game from the bench. The prop is a serious contender for Queensland selection and his 174 running metres carried genuine impact.
The loss was a painful one but you get the feeling it was a strong learning lesson for coach Craig Bellamy’s squad. They had scraped wins over the Bulldogs and Cowboys before the Roosters game and took it right to the defending Premiers. This was the first time this season the Storm have had to dig deep chasing a significant deficit and they responded being in this foreign position admirably. Hosting the struggling Warriors at home offers a great chance to put in their most complete 80-minute performance of the last month.
When the Warriors released Shaun Johnson in the off-season and didn’t replace him with an experienced recruit, they were hitching their playmaking bandwagon onto veteran Blake Green. Green has the quality and respect to take on a team’s attacking responsibility but unfortunately, a groin injury has ruled him out the last two starts and each time has seen the Warriors lose a game they arguably should have won if they had better composure. The Warriors attack wasn’t as free-flowing in their 17-10 loss to Cowboys as it was against Souths the previous week but it still created chances. Chanel Harris-Tavita is certainly learning on the front-line, the rookie halfback again having to shoulder the attacking burden and he did well creating another try but he needs better support from his experienced teammates. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck scored but also made crucial handling mistakes, one of which resulting in a try off the following Cowboys scrum. David Fusitu’a and Ken Maumalo on the wings have also made more errors than they have tries in 2019 and last week remained the same. Fusitu’a won’t get a chance for redemption this week however as the international is sidelined with an injury. The Warriors led multiple times in their last two losses but couldn’t close out either time. Although named, both Green and Tuivasa-Sheck have fitness concerns potentially ruling them out. The Warriors will need them both fit and firing to stand a hope of a huge upset.
Key stats: Melbourne has won six straight against the Warriors and has won every second half in 2019. Suliasi Vunivalu has four tries in four matches against the Warriors. The average Warriors losing margin to Melbourne on ANZAC Day is 25 points.
Best bet: Storm to win second half – $1.45* (Unibet)
Value bet: Storm 19+ – $2.50* (Sportsbet)