MELBOURNE STORM V NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS – 9.50PM (NZT)/7.50PM (AEST) @ AAMI PARK, MELBOURNE
The Storylines: The embattled Warriors head to Melbourne for a seemingly impossible Anzac Day assignment hoping to avoid slumping to a 2-5 record for just the third time in the past 15 years – a position only five teams in the past nine seasons have recovered from to make the finals.
They followed up an overachieving (if heart-breaking, giving up a late 12-point lead) performance in a 28-24 loss to Souths with a bitterly disappointing 17-10 defeat at home to a North Queensland side that was on a four-game losing streak.
The Warriors had leads in both halves and had enough opportunities to win two games, yet could only come up with two tries. Again, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was several classes above the rest of his teammates, while the Warriors forwards’ performance and a lack of attacking direction came under a harsh spotlight.
The Storm have been as dominant as ever in 2019, despite the departure of Billy Slater. They are coming off an epic grand final rematch loss to the Roosters – their first of the season – and look a red-hot certainty to extend their winning run against former bogey side the Warriors to seven matches.
Stephen Kearney resisted deafening calls to change up his team, but ultimately backline adjustments were forced upon him through injury.
Ins and Outs: Blake Green has been named to return after a two-game absence but is still under a cloud. Meanwhile, three-quarter line mainstays David Fusitu’a (injury) and Solomone Kata (compassionate grounds) have been ruled out, which sees Gerard Beale come onto the wing and exciting prospect Patrick Herbert debut in the centres.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has also reportedly been ruled out with a hamstring complaint – despite Kearney declaring it a social media-bred rumour a day earlier. There are conflicting reports over whether Peta Hiku (with Blake Ayshford presumably coming in at centre) or uncapped livewire Hayze Perham will slot in at fullback for the skipper.
I’ve been told Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (hamstring) won’t play against Storm on ANZAC Day. Hayze Perham to start at fullback. Patrick Herbert also in line to replace Kata (neck).
— Matt Manukia (@MattManukiaTVNZ) April 22, 2019
Inexplicably, the Warriors’ pack is unchanged.
The Storm’s only change is Marion Seve coming onto the bench for Ryan Papenhuyzen, though Brandon Smith is in some doubt.
The History: Played 42 – Melbourne won 24, Warriors won 16, draws 2
-The Storm have won six straight against the Warriors, including the past three Anzac Day clashes.
-Five of the Storm’s last eight wins over the Warriors were by 16-plus margins.
-The Warriors have not scored more than 14 points in any of their last six encounters with the Storm.
-Melbourne have not lost back-to-back games at AAMI Park since Rounds 14-15 in 2015.
-The Warriors are on a five-match losing streak on the road.
-The Warriors are looking to avoid three straight losses for the first time since 2017.
3 Key Match-ups
Patrick Herbert v Will Chambers: TWL has been campaigning hard for Herbert’s debut and he gets a gilt-edged chance to prove himself. The 22-year-old trialled sensationally and has been carving up in reserve grade – he’s a robust game-breaker with silky skills, and everything the Warriors haven’t been getting from Kata lately. But wily, niggly veteran Will Chambers will test all of the rookie’s faculties. The Origin stalwart has been below his best in 2019 but provides Herbert with an enormous test on both sides of the ball.
Solomone Kata has reportedly been ruled out of the Anzac Day clash in Melbourne on compassionate grounds, handing Patrick Herbert an NRL debut in the centres. Huge opportunity for the 22-year-old up against Will Chambers. #NRLStormWarriors #ThisWarriorsLife pic.twitter.com/4QJRsTzzDe
— This Warriors Life (@thiswarriorslyf) April 24, 2019
Issac Luke v Cameron Smith: Luke looked sharp and energetic early against the Cowboys, but he spent most of the match on the bench. The Warriors have missed his spark and would benefit hugely if he is able to play 60 minutes or more. Smith still ranks among the game’s most influential and effective players – he was brilliant in the comeback against the Roosters last Friday. He is also a master at manipulating referees when opposing less authoritative skippers.
Lachlan Burr v Dale Finucane: Journeyman Burr is one of the few Warriors to enhance his reputation this season, averaging 95 metres and 32.5 tackles per game, as well as providing some solid second-phase. But Finucane is a step above class-wise – a genuine NSW Origin chance and exactly the type of player the Warriors should be going after. He averages 131 metres and 32 tackles a game, and is a real all-round in the Jake Trbojevic category.
"To think I've now played more games for Melbourne Storm than I did for the Bulldogs is surreal."
Vice-captain Dale Finucane fronted the media ahead of his 100th game in a Storm jersey this Friday night 👏👏⚡️
— Melbourne Storm (@storm) April 16, 2019
Last Time They Met: The Warriors partially made up for their 50-10 Anzac Day annihilation at the hands of the Storm, going down 12-6 in a tense affair at Mount Smart Stadium in Round 19.
Melbourne have covered 9 of 15 at AAMI Park. Melbourne are 12-4 ATS at AAMI Park off a loss. Melbourne are 10-4 ATS at AAMI Park off conceding 20-plus. Melbourne have covered 6 of 9 as a double digit favourite at AAMI Park. The Warriors are 24-31 ATS away from Mt Smart with just three covers in their last nine. The Warriors are 2-6 ATS with a 7-1 under record getting double digits away from Mt Smart. The Warriors have covered just 4 of their last 15 on the road at night. The under is 32-22 in Storm home games over the last five seasons.
TAB’s Best Bet: Storm -13.5 @ $1.90
The Verdict: The Warriors appear to be a real long-shot of upsetting the Storm – and I can’t remember a game at this time of the season they seemed less capable of winning. There is excitement around the injection of Herbert and potentially Perham, but Tuivasa-Sheck’s absence is a colossal blow. A bit of desperation and heart – if for nothing else, drawing inspiration from what our mate Sir Peter Leitch is going through at the minute – would be great to see. But it won’t be enough to jag a boilover result. Storm by 16