The Melbourne Storm will host the Canberra Raiders in a massive NRL Preliminary Final on Friday night! Can the Storm advance into their fourth Grand Final in the last five years? Or will the Raiders get back into the big dance after falling agonisingly short last season? See our full preview and betting tips for the clash below.
Suncorp Stadium, Friday 7.50pm (AEDT)
The Storm enjoyed a week off last week to rest and recover following their 36-24 win over the Eels in Week 1 of the Finals. It was a performance which showed their class, fighting back from an early 12-nil deficit to overpower their opponents with a dominant second half display. They did this through controlling possession (57%) and averaging 9.7m per carry. This wore their opponents down in the middle and create a strong platform for their halves and outside backs to work from. From this, they had more post contact metres (523pcm v 469pcm), 11 line breaks, 34 tackles breaks and just 18 missed tackles. By their high standards, it wasn’t a complete performance; they still had a 73% completion rate and committed 14 errors. The rest last week has also given a few injured players a rest and an opportunity to play this fixture.
The Raiders would have benefitted from such a luxury; rather, they are coming off a bruising 22-18 win over the Roosters. In a spirited performance, they jumped to a 16-nil lead inside 22 minutes and looked to tighten up in defence. As expected, the Roosters fought back and the Raiders were forced to produced something special to seal the victory. They were faultless with the ball, completing at 90% with 53% possession. They also demonstrated power over their opponents; carrying the ball for more metres, more post contact metres and more line breaks. The Raiders had a massive 42 tackle breaks (same as the Roosters); although they will not be pleased with their 42 missed tackles. Many put an end to the Raiders chances earlier in the season with the loss of a few key players but they appear to have found a new edge to their play that is working for them so far.
Statistically, these two sides have not performed as well as ‘featuring in a preliminary final’ should suggest. For run metres, the Storm are 7th with 1,731.8m and the Raiders 9th with 1,677.1m; post contact metres has the Storm in 9th with 581.5m and the Raiders 10th with 554.9m; and for set completion, the Storm are ranked 11th with 77.5% and the Raiders 9th with78.4%. When it comes to line breaks, the Storm have been dynamic recent and they average 5.1 per game for the season (2nd) compared to the Raiders 4.1 (7th). They also have the edge in try assists, averaging 3.3 per game (5th), slightly ahead of the Raiders 2.8 (7th). This suggests that the Storm may have a slight attacking edge over the Raiders. Of the past 10 games between these two sides (dating back to Round 23, 2016), the Storm have won 6 out of 10 matches.
They had the home ground advantage in 6 of those fixtures but were not always successful; in fact, of those 6 matches, the Raiders had a 50% winning record as the away team. To take this a step further, the Raiders have won the past 3 games against the Storm when they have been the traveling side (matches were played in Melbourne). These two sides have also met twice recently in Finals matches (2016 & 2019) with the wins split evenly and the margin in both games sitting at 2-points. On both occasions, the Raiders were the visiting team. These two sides also met back in Round 9 this year (in Canberra), with the Storm recording a 20-14 victory. In that match, the Raiders held more possession (54%), had a superior completion rate (80% v 71%), created more line breaks (5 v 1) and missed fewer tackles (26 v 45). It was also the game the Raiders lost hooker Josh Hodgson.
The Raiders are right where they want to be; they are one win away from their second Grand Final in as many years, they are underdogs ($2.70) and many people believe that the fatigue from last week will get the better of them. This is a team that has shown previously that they are capable enough, even when their backs are against the wall. The fact the Storm have had a week to rest will certainly have its advantages; however, it has also had many forget the true measure of their effort against the Eels. By their standards, it wasn’t a complete performance (see match statistics above) and they still had moments in their game which allowed their opponents into the match. A better team may have capitalised on such an opportunity. This match is far closer than the odds are suggesting.
The Raiders have adjusted to a ‘new normal’ with injuries and there is still doubt around whether or not Cameron Munster will take his place in this team. If he does take the field, there is no certainty that he will remain on there for the entire 80 minutes and the Raiders will undoubtedly be testing him out at every opportunity. If they were to lose him, it would have a large impact on the outcome of this match. If the Raiders can stop the attacking movements of the Storm and build pressure through controlling possession (something they attempted last time), they are a real chance of winning this game. Rather than tipping them outright, the better play is to invest around a tight contest. Sure, the 2020 season has had some ‘blowout’ score lines but the history between these two sides, especially in Finals, is too much to overlook.
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