The Melbourne Storm are back in the finals once again after another impressive home and away season. In Week 1, they'll square off against the Eels on Saturday night and we have you covered with a full preview and betting tips below.
Suncorp Stadium, Saturday, 7.50pm (AEST)
The Storm finished the regular season with an expected loss, as they took the opportunity to rest a host of players to freshen them up for the NRL Finals. In the end, they scored 5-tries each in their 30-22 loss to the Dragons, with goal kicking proving the difference. For what it’s worth, they still only had 48% possession and a 76% completion rate. With fewer attacking opportunities, they still averaged more metres per carry (9.3m per carry) and more post contact metres (762pcm). They will not like the fact that they allowed the Dragons to have more linebreaks, but a completely different standard can be expected this week. The Eels also had goal-kicking accuracy decide the performance, overcoming the Tigers 28-24, as the Tigers only converted 1 of their 5 tries.
It is somewhat concerning for the Eels that they turned out this performance a week out from the Finals; even with the Tigers losing their 5/8 and several other limiting factors, the Eels were never able to convincingly move away from their opponents. They managed to complete at 82% with 51% possession, made more total metres and post contact metres, while also having fewer errors and missed tackles. Winning form is good form and the Eels will be out to prove themselves worthy of being considered as contenders. Unfortunately, they have not looked like the same team that restarted the competition but it is a whole new ball game in the NRL Finals.
The Storm were required to move this fixture to a bigger ground and have landed at Suncorp Stadium, a ground where they have an 83% winning record, compared with the Eels 44%. The Storm have an overall edge when it comes to scoring and stopping points; they average 26.7ppg in attack and 13.8ppg in defence. In contrast, the Eels score 19.6ppg in attack and 14.4ppg in defence; it must be stated though that since Round 15, the Eels have averaged just 15.7ppg in attack and allowed 18.7ppg in defence. The NRL Finals is a new situation but recent form has to count for something.
For what it’s worth, in the same time period, the Storm averaged 26.7ppg in attack and 18ppg in defence. Perhaps it is the effectiveness of the Eels in positive attacking positions which has been an issue; they lead the Storm in post contact metres (665.1pcm – 1st v 584.4pcm – 9th) and total metres (1,833.4m – 2nd v 1,721.9m – 7th). The Storm are slightly better in other areas such as missed tackles (25.1 – 15th v 27.1 – 9th), linebreaks (4.9 – 4th v 3.8 – 10th) and try assists (3.2 – 5th v 2.6 – 10th). Recent history is not kind to the Eels either; they have won just 3 out of the past 11 meetings dating back to Round 24, 2013. Worse still, the average margin of victory to the Storm (including Finals matches) is 27.5 points.
The Storm head into this game as strong favourites and it is no surprise when you consider, not only the statistics mentioned above (including the recent history), but the recent form of each team. Sure, the Eels won against the Storm in Round 15 by a score of 14-0; yet, they were far from convincing in that game considering the personnel missing for the Storm. The Eels have been on a downward trajectory in recent weeks (fatigue is also an issue) and it is questionable as to how they are going to turn around their form so quickly.
Plenty of factors will need to change if that is to happen. The Storm are a confident side and will look to capitalise on the fragility of their opponents, especially picking apart the defensive structure on the edges. Sivo can expect relentless traffic his way (consider Vunivalu FTS @ $7) and when that plan doesn’t work, they will pressure the Eels in other areas. It is hard to see them absorbing pressure and combating in attack over 80 minutes. There is no doubt that the Eels will be competitive early in this match; they appear to do their best work when they try to ‘out Storm’ the Storm. Then again, the home side will be prepared for this game plan.
Given this game is a Finals fixture between 2nd and 3rd on the competition ladder, it is amazing to see the line set at 13.5 points; it is almost tempting punters to take this on. If the Eels come with their early season form, the line will not be covered by the Storm. Given the recent form of each team, that is a big ‘if’. For that reason, and in order to find some value, take the Storm to either cover the line, win by 13+ or win by a specified margin to add greater value.
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