Melbourne Storm v Canberra Raiders - Preliminary Final @ AAMI Park
The Raiders look to continue their giant killing ways all the way to the Grand Final when they roll into Melbourne for an explosive Preliminary Final on Saturday Night at AAMI Park. The Raiders travel to Melbourne off the back of back-to-back home finals resulting in a narrow loss to the Sharks and a gusty win over Penrith. The Storm are well rested, having had 14 days off after their tough and grinding 16-10 win over the Cowboys in Week 1 of the finals. The sides only met once this year with the Raiders putting on a powerhouse display at home bashing their way to a 22-8 victory courtesy of a dominant display in the forwards.
The Minor Premiers head into the Preliminary Final with the knowledge that impact bench player Nelson Asofa-Solomona is out for the rest of the season with an elbow injury. The Storm bring in Christian Welch to replace Solomona and are otherwise unchanged with Matt White and Felise Kaufusi dropping off an extended bench. The Storm have been outstanding at home this season winning 10 of 12 matches at AAMI park. In those 12 games they have conceded just 156 points at an average of just 13 a game. The Storm are outstanding front runners and will be looking to get the jump on the Raiders here and control the game from there. In Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith they have finals veterans who know exactly how to control the tempo of the match to suit the Storm. Melbourne would no doubt be burning from their home Preliminary Final defeat 12 months ago when the Cowboys ran rough shod over them winning 32-12. However this side is a far superior outfit with their extra muscle up front and strike out wide with Marika Koroibete and Suliasi Vunivalu both threats with their speed and leaping ability.
The Raiders have exceeded all expectations this year and Ricky Stuart goes into the game naming an unchanged line-up from the one that defeated Penrith 7 days ago. Canberra have been the form team of the NRL for the past 3 months winning 11 of their last 12 matches with their only loss being a narrow 16-14 loss to the Sharks in week 1 of the finals. Josh Hodgson has been dynamic out of dummy half of the Raiders this year registering more tackle breaks, line break assists and try assists than his opposite number Cameron Smith. The Raiders dynamic right hand side duo of Joey Leilua and Jordan Rapana have 33 tries between them this year and will be looking to wreak havoc out wide once more. Jordan Rapana leads the league in line breaks while Leilua leads the NRL for offloads during the finals series.
Verdict - Storm 30 Raiders 18
I can't go past Melbourne at home here. They would be stinging from getting blown out in a home Preliminary Final last year and will be intent on making amends 12 months on. There is no doubt the Raiders are the sort of free wheeling, unstructured team that could trouble Melbourne with their size, early shifts and ability to offload. The Raiders were convincing winners when the pair met in Canberra 6 weeks ago and will be looking for a similar forward dominance here. The Storm have been excellent at home this year and I think their experience in the big game will be a factor here against a young Canberra side.