NRL Finals Week 1: Storm v Raiders Preview & Betting Tips
Canberra made the comeback of 2019 the last time they were in Melbourne – will lightning strike twice against the Storm?
Melbourne Storm v Canberra Raiders – AAMI Park – 5:40pm
It’s full steam ahead for the Melbourne Storm, their comfortable 24-16 defeat of North Queensland ensuring they enter the finals with a formidable season record. In their four losses this campaign, the greatest margin has been four points – intriguingly however that very same result was delivered at home by their opponents this week Canberra.
The Raiders’ shock defeat to the Warriors relegated them to fourth spot and gives Melbourne a chance to redeem themselves after their infamous Raider collapse. Ominously for Canberra, you just need to look back to round 24 when the Storm had the opportunity to exact revenge on one of the sides who had the temerity to beat them this season in Manly. That night the Storm was on a mission, methodically grinding away at the Sea Eagles and Manly hasn’t been the same since.
Craig Bellamy has used the time since Melbourne guaranteed the Minor Premiership to rejig his side, resting key players and experimenting with his fullback, five-eighth and halfback roles. It’s an impressive selection headache to have when Bellamy is needing to find a way of accommodating two impressive fullbacks in Jahrome Hughes and Ryan Papenhuyzen into his side. He’s done so by shifting Hughes into halfback with Brodie Croft now officially a reserve.
The Storm’s pack meanwhile show no signs of relenting and Nelson Asofa-Solomona continued his best year to date with a try and powerhouse performance against a Cowboys side including Jordan McLean, the man Melbourne moved on to bring him into the starting side. One man who will never be moved on from Melbourne is Cameron Smith and the veteran remains as reliable as ever in steering the ship regardless of those around him, and his showdown with Josh Hodgson will be brilliant theatre. Canberra’s victory at AAMI Park was one of the Green Machine’s best in their 37-year history but it might come back to haunt them this week – it’s hard to imagine Melbourne taking their foot off the throat again should the Storm take an early lead this time around.
Canberra finds themselves facing a repeat trip to Melbourne this week due to their shocking 24-20 upset loss at home to the Warriors. Coach Ricky Stuart rolled the dice in resting four key starters – Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, John Bateman, Jordan Rapana and Sia Soliola – and discovered his side didn’t have the depth to withstand a Warriors side with nothing to lose. John Papalii didn’t get the weekend off and the Queenslander responded with a big performance including a try, 184 run metres and 29 tackles without a miss.
It’s that effort his side will need on Saturday to counter the ruthless Storm pack. Josh Hodgson showed his street smarts before halftime, with time running down and the Raiders in field-goal range to potentially split the 12-all deadlock. The English hooker ingeniously feigned the pass to the open side and instead scurried down the blind side to score and give his side a slender lead.
It wasn’t enough however with the Warriors throwing all caution into the wind and Canberra’s inability to muscle up in defence cost them dearly and instead of a trip to the SCG, they now face the Minor Premiers away to open their finals campaign. Young forward Hudson Young copped it deluxe from all quarters – except coach Stuart – post-game for his second eye gouge incident of the year, and his suspension means the Raiders have big shoes to fill off the bench in compensating for his absence.
It was Canberra’s bench who dragged them back from 18-0 down when they last faced Melbourne and if Canberra has any hope of a second Storm ambush, they’ll need every bit of energy they can muster from their middle rotations. Raiders punters will point to their under-strength side last week as a sign of not reading too much into the defeat, but they can’t have any excuses this time around – it’s all hands on deck with their rested stars ready to tear in.
• Melbourne have won their last six straight first halves over Canberra by an average of 15.3 points.
• The Storm has also won their last four opening finals matches.
• Josh Addo-Carr has scored in his last three matches and has a career finals strike rate of five tries in six games.
Best bet: Josh Addo-Carr anytime try scorer - $1.83* (Bet365)
Value bet: Storm 9+ halftime margin - $3.20* (Sportsbet)