Melbourne Storm (1st) v Brisbane Broncos (3rd)
The Storm powered their way into Week 3 with a strong victory over the Eels that was a lot closer than most were thinking. Having won the game in such a manner will serve them well moving forward, refocusing them on what lies ahead and making them aware that everyone wants to beat the leading team in the competition. They still were able to complete at 79%, with only 9 errors and just 19 missed tackles; while the Eels dominated most parts of this, the class of the Storm meant they were able to hang in for long periods of time and grab the victory. The week off will serve as a “freshen up” following a long and arduous campaign from their stars, while their home ground advantage will give them another edge. The Storm will fancy their chances against the Broncos, a team they have already beaten twice this season. Their opponents head south after a grinding win over the Panthers 13-6, a win that needs plenty of improvement compared to what they have produced for majority of 2017. They completed at just 69% with 15 errors and a massive 42 tackles; each of these areas were worse than their opponents and could explain why the score remained tight. The uncharacteristic display forced them to absorb the pressure of their opponents and make the most of attacking opportunities when it was presented to them. Their scrambling play at times was great, although, they will need to lift considerably if they are to be competitive in this match. Of course, the hopes of the visitors will also depend on players returning from injury and how they rework the balance of their team. There is no doubt that they have the quality, yet a few challening matches recent appears to be taking a toll on their bodies and this game is bound to be yet another difficult test for them.
Storm = Unchanged.
Broncos = Darius Boyd (injury) is named to return at fullback, allowing Kodi Nikorima to shift back to halfback and Benji Marshall to the bench. Tevita Pangai Jnr (injury) is also named on the bench, pushing David Mead and Jai Arrow to the reserves.
Overall = Storm 28 Draw 1 Broncos 13
Last 5 Matches = Storm 4 Broncos 1
At AAMI Park = Storm 75% Broncos 38%
Form = Storm 8 wins – Broncos 1 win
The Storms record over the Broncos is dominating to say the least and it only become greater when you look at the recent record; they have won 12 out of the past 14 meetings between the two sides and have a 75% winning record at home. Despite only having a 38% winning record at this ground, the Broncos have won 2 out of the past 3 visits to this ground. That aside, there is something special about the Storm this season that puts them above their opponents; they are stronger in all areas across the field and will aim to build pressure on the Broncos through the middle. In equal measure, the Broncos appear to be lacking poise and experience when it matters most; they were good in winning last week but should’ve won by a far greater margin given the respective quality of each of the teams. The greatest indication of the difference between these two sides was on display back in Round 17 when the Storm dominated the contest 42-12. The way they executed throughout the match gave little chance to their opponents and the Broncos are missing some players from that encounter. It is no surprise that the home team heads into this game as strong favorites and the only opportunity appears to be for the Broncos to build pressure through a strong defensive structure. This will undoubtedly happen in the initial stages of the game, yet the difference compared to what they faced last week will be the vast array of decisions they will have to make at the line with more than one attacking option available. The suggestion that Boyd will immediately impact their attack is somewhat unfounded, with players generally struggling to return to intensity, let alone that of a Preliminary Final. If anything, the Broncos need greater poise at the end of attacking sets to build pressure and if they are not doing this, then they can forget their chances of winning this contest. The Finals intensity is should keep this match close, although with the Storm averaging a winning margin of 16.2 points in their last 5 wins over the Broncos and being clearly ahead of the rest of the competition, they could just gather enough momentum to win this game comfortably.
Storm -10.5 @ $2
Sydney Roosters (2nd) v North Queensland Cowboys (8th)
The Roosters moved into Week 3 of the Finals with a “come-from-behind” victory over the Broncos 24-22 in Week 1. Seemingly in control of the match, the Roosters made things difficult for themselves with 10 minutes remaining, with Latrell Mitchell producing a special play that delivered a 74th minute try and the game-leading conversion. Allowing the game to become so tight when they appeared the better team demonstrates the Roosters inability to close out matches, while a greater level of experience is needed from their halves. Overall in that match, they completed at 79%, made 11 errors and missed 23 tackles; despite conceding 4 tries, their defence is clearly a strength in their game. Their forwards dominated the middle of that game and they will need to do the same again here with a few of the best players in the NRL leading the way for the Cowboys. After falling into 8th spot on the ladder, the Cowboys have thrown together consecutive victories to be within 1-win of a Grand Final appearance. The achievement, given the players missing from their team, is exceptional to say the least and there is no greater detail of that than their 24-16 win over the Eels last week. Behind 10-6 at HT, the Cowboys could consider themselves unlucky as the Eels scored 2 tries that were beyond 80m. Once the visitors gathered enough possession, Michael Morgan continually built pressure with repeat sets on the back of damaging play by their forwards. Their 85% completion rate gave minimal opportunities to their opponents, while their defence was strong, only missing 28 total tackles. The intensity will again be lifted ahead of this match but you should only discount the Cowboys at your own peril.
Roosters = Daniel Tupou (injury) returns on the wing, allowing Latrell Mitchell to move back to the centres and Ryan Matterson to the bench. Zane Tetevano (suspension) returns on the bench for Kane Evans.
Cowboys = Unchanged, although Matt Scott (injury) has been named in the reserves and is an outside chance of playing.
Overall = Roosters 21 Cowboys 10
Last 5 Matches = Roosters 4 Cowboys 1
At Allianz Stadium = Roosters 64% Cowboys 33%
Form = Roosters 4 wins – Cowboys 1 win
Every time you discount the Cowboys in the Finals, they are more than willing to prove people wrong. With their confidence growing, they are a dangerous team and the level of expectation has never been set high. This is a dangerous situation for the Roosters, a team that needs greater poise and patience in their play, consistently, for 80 minutes. The trip south could cause some concern for the Cowboys, they have recorded just 7 wins at this ground from 31 attempts. The week off will freshen the Roosters for this contest, yet the Cowboys will test them; they are one of the best teams recently at building pressure and there was no greater instance than their last weeks effort against the Eels. The Roosters need to nullify the strengths of the opponents, namely Michael Morgan and Jason Taumalolo; they are key to their chances of winning and have been well supported by the rest of the squad throughout the last few weeks. The Roosters appear capable of halting them in this area, especially in the middle of the field where the Cowboys will aim to gain an advantage. If the Roosters are play will lack of respect for the ball, their opponents will make them pay for their mistakes. The odds suggest that the Roosters should prevail in this game, although it may be far closer than most think. The Cowboys have one of the highest completion rates in the league, even when they were losing; while this doesn’t suggest that victory is assured, it means that a team like the Roosters that averaged the highest errors of any team in the competition (11.6 per game), will have to learn to capitalise and build pressure. If not, the Cowboys will continually come at them for 80 minutes and the margin appears likely to be less than a converted try; further evidence is that 3 of the past 5 Roosters victories have been by 6 points or less. This is going to be a very exciting contest!
Either Team Under 6.5 Points @ $3