NRL Round 16: Dragons v Storm Preview & Betting Tips
The Storm are streets ahead atop the ladder and won’t want a slip-up to the desperate Dragons in Wollongong.
St George Illawarra Dragons v Melbourne Storm – WIN Stadium – 7:50pm
Melbourne’s 14-12 win against the Roosters was their most important of their campaign. Now six points clear atop the ladder, the Minor Premiership is the Storm’s to lose – and with it, two guaranteed home finals. They had to tough it out against a dangerous Roosters side all who came home strong in the second half, throwing plenty at a tiring Storm defence but unable to break through. Melbourne prides itself on each man getting his job done regardless of circumstances and this was evident in another tight Grand Final rematch.
Dale Finucane finally made his New South Wales debut and in his first game backing up from Origin had one of his best efforts of the year, churning out 38 tackles and 181 running metres to make a big difference through the middle. Ryan Papenhuyzen started the year as the third-choice fullback behind Jahrome Hughes and Scott Drinkwater, but the ex-Tiger has looked a natural at NRL level when given the chance. With Hughes a late absence, Papenhuyzen stepped up from his usual bench cameo to starting against
NRL’s best fullback in James Tedesco – and held his own while doing so, getting himself a try. Brodie Croft continues his development at half and with Cameron Munster out, he’ll become the senior half this week. The biggest benefit Storm this week have however is a man about to play his 399th NRL match. Cameron Smith is the best game-manager in NRL history and he showed it yet again last round.
With scores locked at 12-all and a field goal shootout looming, Smith read the situation perfectly. He took a hitup late in a tackle count close to the Roosters’ line and had the intention of manufacturing the quickest play the ball he could manage.
This scenario would either allow Croft an easier shot at field goal or create ruck interference for a sitter at a penalty goal. Smith achieved the latter and Melbourne achieved the win. Having Smith available this week due to representative retirement is a godsend for the Storm and with the Dragons also impacted with Origin, don’t put it past the wily veteran to pull out another game management masterclass.
The Dragons bucked two notable trends when they defeated North Queensland 22-14 last round. It was only their second win in their last eight matches, plus it notably saw them step up their performance in the second half instead of their recent efforts which have seen them crumble.
It wasn’t a complete performance – handling errors were frequent and by the time the Dragons genuinely got into the contest they already trailed by 10 – but the effort was there and it was an encouraging sign there’s still life left in their finals chances.
Paul Vaughan has become his side’s pack leader in the ongoing absence of James Graham and the New South Wales prop wasn’t going to be stopped by anyone – including the Cowboys pack – or anything – like his gameday bout of food poisoning. Matt Dufty had a mixed night at fullback making three errors, but he also scored, created another try and was unlucky not to have a further try assist.
For a side outside the eight, St George Illawarra has a significant Origin exodus exceeding teams above them. This drain now includes Corey Norman with the five-eighth earning an inaugural Maroons selection which means he joins club halfback Ben Hunt in missing out this week. Cameron McInnes becomes the most experienced member of the Dragons’ revamped spine this round and can’t afford for counterpart Cameron Smith to pull the strings.
Dufty also becomes increasingly vital, his ability to ball play takes the edge off the makeshift halves combo of Jai Field and Darren Nicholls while always being capable of a line break at any time. The Dragons have begun a fixture run where five of their next seven games are at home. The Cowboys win was the first of several wins the Dragons need to claim to stay alive this season.
They won’t get a better chance of beating Melbourne this year either with the Storm themselves smashed with Origin callups. Can Paul McGregor’s side make it back to back wins for the first time since round six?
Key stats: The last time a side were six points clear ahead of second at this time of a season was 2012 (again achieved by the Storm). Suliasi Vunivalu has five tries in four matches against the Dragons. These sides met in an Origin affected match last year in Melbourne, the Storm winning 52-30. The Storm has won six straight matches. The average combined points tally in Storm matches this year is 37.7 points.
Best bet: Suliasi Vunivalu anytime tryscorer - $2.10* (TAB)
Value bet: Storm -3.5/Over 34.5 points - $2.63* (Sportsbet)