TWL RD 19 PREVIEW: WARRIORS V STORM

NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS V MELBOURNE STORM – 4.00PM (NZT)/2.00PM (AEST) SUNDAY, JULY 15 AT MOUNT SMART STADIUM

The Storylines: The past fortnight has provided some harrowing and thrilling reminders that nothing can be taken for granted when the 2018 Warriors take the field.

Their 36-4 loss to the weakened Panthers was worse than anything they dished up last season, while their 26-6 bounce-back against the Broncos was one of the club’s most exhilarating performances in years. While the former was a reminder of how bad it can get when they switch off, the latter confirmed the Warriors can still do some serious damage in this premiership race – after being widely written off in the lead-up.

This Sunday represents a chance to consolidate the progress they made in Brisbane with the red-hot Melbourne Storm coming to town.

The Storm have won six straight – amazingly going through the Origin period undefeated – and are firming as the first team to successfully defend their title in the NRL era.

Craig Bellamy gambled on resting rep quintet Billy Slater, Cameron Munster, Josh Addo-Carr, Will Chambers and Felise Kaufusi last week and it paid off with a 14-13 eclipse of Manly. All five players were on fire as Melbourne dismantled the Warriors 50-10 on Anzac Day.

The Warriors’ bogey-team reputation against the Storm is waning courtesy of five straight losses in arguably their greatest rivalry, but with their pack in rampaging form last week and the spine coming off arguably their best collective performance of the season, the hosts have no reason to fear the premiers.

Peta Hiku has been demoted to the bench – a week too late in the eyes of many, but ironic given how good he was on the wing last week – with Ken Maumalo returning in the only change to the starting line-up. Anthony Gelling drops off the interchange but it’s still a lopsided-looking bench quartet; Hiku or Joseph Vuna could make way, particularly with the injured Bunty Afoa’s name making a surprise return in the reserves contingent.

Ladder-wise, it’s a huge game. A win would, at worst, see the Warriors join the Storm in a share of third spot. A loss potentially sees the Broncos catch up with them again and the Raiders and Tigers draw to within just four points. The Storm still have designs on yet another minor premiership.

It should be a bumper Mount Smart crowd for the club’s Great Vodafone Warriors Charity Day – no doubt spurred along by Warriors icon Simon Mannering announcing on Wednesday that the 2018 season will be his last.

The History: Played 41 – Melbourne won 23, Warriors won 16, draws 2.

The Stats

-Melbourne are on a five-match winning streak against the Warriors – a record for the rivalry.
-The Warriors have scored more than 18 points just twice in their last 12 encounters with the Storm.
-Only one of the teams’ last seven clashes were decided by less than 14 points.
-The Storm are scoring 23.5 points per game (4th) and conceding just 15.6 (2nd); the Warriors are scoring 19.6 points per game (equal-eighth) and conceding 19.1 (eighth).
-The Warriors are 4-4 at home this season, losing their last three at Mount Smart. They haven’t scored more than 26 points at the ground in 2018.
-The Storm are 7-3 on the road this season, winning their last five away from Melbourne – including three by one-point margins.

3 Key Match-ups 

Blake Green v Cameron Munster: Two very different styles of five-eighth but equally vital to the make-up of their teams. The effect of Green’s level-headed traits and experience on the Warriors’ rise can’t be understated – and he was superb against the Broncos. The tough, dynamic Munster is one of the NRL finest competitors; if I was staring a new franchise, he’d be my No.1 target. Munster had a great Origin series and comes back fresh after sitting out Round 18.

Issac Luke v Cameron Smith: Two of the most influential players in the 2018 premiership. Luke’s renaissance has grabbed more headlines but Smith remains a supreme match-winner. Luke’s early injury exit on Anzac Day was a key factor in the Warriors’ heavy loss and the Storm will be on high alert after another blistering performance from the Kiwi Test hooker against the Broncos. The Warriors have to unsettle Smith – if the Storm skipper is allowed to call the tune, you’re three-quarters of the way towards a loss.

Agnatius Paasi v Jesse Bromwich: It’s been an injury-hampered year for Bromwich, but he returned from his second month-long layoff of the season last weekend, coming off the bench against Manly. His front-row opposite Agnatius Paasi certainly isn’t short of a gallop though – he was sensational in the Brisbane win, chalking up three line-breaks, seven tackle-busts, a try and a mountain of metres.

Last Time They Met: The Warriors arrived in Melbourne for their Anzac Day showdown with the Storm full of confidence after knocking off the previously undefeated Dragons five days earlier, only to crash 50-10 to the red-hot hosts in a brutal reality check. The sizzling Storm piled on six first-half tries to head to the sheds 38-0 in front.

The Punt: NZ TAB Odds – Head to Head: Warriors $2.20, Storm $1.62 (Line: Warriors +3.5)

The Storm have covered 13 of 20 when favoured by 3.5 or less. The Storm have covered 9 of 13 when on a streak of 5+ wins. The Warriors are 17-24 ATS at Mt Smart. The under is 7-0 when the Warriors play at Mt Smart off a win of 13+. The under is 13-4 when the Storm are on the road after scoring 14 or fewer.

. FULL TAB PREVIEW  | TAB PUNTERS LOUNGE – NRL

Tips – Warriors 12 & Under @ $3.20
Total – Over 37.5 @ $1.87
To Score a Try & Win – Roger Tuivasa-Sheck & Warriors Win @ $3.50
HT/FT – Tie/Warriors @ $18
LISTEN: TAB NRL PODCAST – THE ADVANTAGE LINE

The Verdict: Look, the Storm are deserving favourites. The Warriors haven’t been able to string together top-shelf performances and that’s stung them over the last three months when they’ve squared off against quality opposition. But last week’s showing at Suncorp Stadium seemed to herald a shift, whether it was inspired by their dismal performance at Penrith or not. Melbourne are experts at exploiting weakness, but Warriors teams of yesteryear have proven they have the game-breakers and irresistible momentum when at their best to unsettle the structured Storm. Warriors by 4

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