NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS V MELBOURNE STORM – 9.00PM (NZT)/7.00PM (AEST) WEDNESDAY, APRIL 25 @ AAMI PARK
The Storylines: Last Friday the Warriors emphatically confirmed what they had been hinting at over the first six rounds of the season – they are the real deal and a genuine threat in the 2018 NRL premiership.
Their courageous 20-12 win over the previously undefeated Dragons – driven by a colossal defensive performance and the brilliance of Issac Luke – ranks alongside any regular-season efforts in Warriors history.
Now it’s on to another big occasion and another thorough examination, the traditional Anzac Day clash with a Melbourne Storm side that appears to be hitting its straps after a shaky opening month.
The defending premiers have powered to convincing victories over Newcastle and Brisbane in the past fortnight and will be eager to make a statement against the hottest team in the competition.
Both teams are coming off a five-day turnaround as well as showing signs of early-season attrition: Jesse Bromwich is out in a huge blow for the Storm, while Tohu Harris will miss the chance to take on his former club, joining Shaun Johnson and Solomone Kata in the Warriors’ casualty ward.
But the Warriors’ stand-ins – Isaiah Papali’i, Mason Lino and Anthony Gelling – are coming off outstanding individual performances against the Dragons.
Despite Harris’ absence, there’s still plenty of interclub storylines with Stephen Kearney, Adam Blair, Blake Green and Andrew McFadden all returning to Melbourne as Warriors, while Storm veteran Ryan Hoffman will square off against the Warriors for the first time since ending his three-season stint in Auckland.
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) April 24, 2018
The History: Played 40 – Storm won 22, Warriors won 16, draws 2
–The Storm and Warriors are equal-third in the NRL for points scored after seven rounds; the Storm are fourth for points conceded, with the Warriors fifth.
-Just one of the Warriors’ games so far in 2018 have been decided by a 13+ margin; the Storm’s four wins have all been by 13+ and their three losses all by 1-12.
-Melbourne has won its last four games against the Warriors – the longest winning streak in the rivalry’s 20 seasons.
-The Storm have won five Anzac Day games to the Warriors two, with one drawn.
-The Warriors boast a 3-5 record at AAMI Park.
-Ten of the teams’ last 15 encounters have been decided by 10 points or less.
-David Fusitu’a has scored the first try in two of his three Anzac Day games against the Storm.
3 Key Match-ups
Issac Luke v Cameron Smith: Arguably the greatest hookers New Zealand and Australia have produced, Luke and Smith have waged many outstanding No.9 battles over the years. The reborn Luke is playing out of this world, culminating in a match-winning turn in Friday’s triumph over the Dragons. Smith remains the Storm’s orchestrator – perhaps even more so with Cronk no longer at the club. Different styles but a fascinating duel.
Anthony Gelling v Will Chambers: The enigmatic Gelling was outstanding in his maiden NRL start, scoring a try and doing a magnificent defensive job on in-form Saint Euan Aitken. But he’ll have an even tougher job this weekend opposite Australian Test centre Will Chambers, widely regarded as the game’s best and coming off a stellar performance against Brisbane.
Blake Green v Cameron Munster: Green comes up against one of his former clubs and ex-teammate Munster, who played fullback in the Storm’s 2016 grand final line-up alongside Green. The dynamic Munster was best on ground against the Broncos last week, while Green has been the Warriors’ perpetual steady hand in the No.6.
Lino, Gelling and Papali'i named to start in the annual #AnzacDay match in Melbourne on Wednesday 😝 v 🌩
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) April 23, 2018
Last Time They Met: It was Anzac Day and the Warriors were unlucky to go down 20-14. Locked up at 8-all at halftime, the Warriors took the lead early in the second half through David Fusitu’a’s second try and were still in front with 15 minutes to go. But a contentious Josh Addo-Carr try edged the Storm ahead and Felise Kaufusi sealed it with three minutes left.
Why We’ll Win: Regardless of how the Warriors are travelling in the lead-up, there’s something about them that troubles the Storm – particularly in Melbourne. The Warriors have led or been level with the Storm after the 65-minute mark in six of their eight games at AAMI Park. And now the Warriors are reinvented as a super-fit, relentless defensive unit with unprecedented belief and confidence. Every player is performing out of their skins and – the Round 6 loss to Brisbane aside – the Warriors have beaten all comers through sheer enthusiasm, aggression and desire. Jesse Bromwich is a big out for the home side.
Why We’ll Lose: The Storm are the Storm – still the NRL’s benchmark. And they have got back in the mood in their last couple of outings, piling on the tries with Munster, Slater, Smith and that devastating wing duo of Addo-Carr and Vunivalu in electric form. The Warriors have found plenty of success defensively through rushing up from the outside in to shut down the opposition, but if they don’t get it quite right, no side is better equipped to exploit them than the Storm. Gelling and Maumalo will have their hands full with the Storm’s right-side pairing of Chambers and Vunivalu. It’s a new challenge for ultra-hyped back-up Mason Lino this week as well.
The Storm have covered just 3 of their last 13 at home after a win of 13+. The under is 10-3 when the Storm are at home after a win of 13+. The Warriors have covered their last three away from Mt Smart. The Warriors are 12-7 as a road underdog of 4.5 or more. The Storm are 8-2 under on a quick backup since 2015. FULL TAB PREVIEW
The NRL is action is done and dusted for another weekend but you only have to wait 72 hours to see the Warriors back in action.
— TAB Sport (@TAB_Sport) April 22, 2018
The Verdict: The Warriors have spent the opening seven rounds stomping all over external expectations to grab a share of the competition lead and they’ll head into this showdown against the Storm with no fear. But the Storm, laced with game-breakers, are in dangerous form and will throw more at the Warriors’ defence than they’ve encountered so far in 2018. The Warriors also need to cut down the penalties and get an even share of possession – it would be a huge ask to hold on for another gutsy win with only 40 percent of the ball. But their superior fitness should negate the effect of the five-day turnaround and if the Warriors can put the Storm under early pressure, they should find themselves in a position to grind the Storm into submission. Warriors by 6