Round 14: Storm v Broncos preview
Just days after being the centre of the Rugby League universe, Melbourne again plays host to an important clash this time it's the Storm hosting the Brisbane Broncos in an important clash for both sides.
Melbourne in 2018 have been a story that has been hard to read and predict, prior to the Bye round the Storm took an unimpressive 7-6 victory over the North Queensland Cowboys in Townsville. The scrappy victory was following the Storm's implosion against Manly which saw Melbourne fall to a 24-4 defeat against Melbourne in an effort which saw thing just unravel severely for the Storm.
The Storm have been quite clearly missing the impact that Cooper Cronk had in attack for the Storm and it can be seen in their points scoring throughout 2018 where they have managed 265 through their opening 12 matches which is thirteen points lower than they were at the same point in 2017 (278). The Storm are without Billy Slater once again who succumbed to a hamstring injury mid-week which ruled him out of Origin 1 on Wednesday. The Storm will be also sweating on the fitness of three players who played in Origin 1 however they will be without centre Will Chambers who was suspended for Dangerous contact out of the Origin match.
The Brisbane Broncos come into the game on the cusp of falling outside the NRL's top 8 following a run of victories against the Roosters and the Eels leading into the bye. The Broncos were ultra-impressive in the victory over the Roosters before an average effort against the hapless Eels in which they took victory in a game that could've finished very differently.
Brisbane's form in 2018 has been filled with ups and downs and this is shown in their attacking prowess scoring 232 points through their first 12 rounds in 2018 compared to 277 points at the same point in 2017. The Broncos defence has also been a concern by conceding 264 points so far in 2018 compared with just 207 at the same point in 2017. The Broncos will be playing their own waiting game over the fitness of their Origin players with centre James Roberts the focus with Roberts coming from the field with ten minutes to go in Origin 1.
The Broncos have won just 6 of the past 31 matches played between this pair, however the last two victories for Brisbane against the Storm have come in Melbourne.
Who to watch: Cameron Smith - For the first time in over a decade, Cameron Smith comes into a post-origin Melbourne team without having played in Origin. The Storm captain missed the clash against Manly and returned into the Melbourne side with a man of the match performance against the Cowboys. The freshness will be a benefit for Smith who has shown good form for Melbourne this season and up against a Broncos side that has a number of tired players, Smith could do plenty of damage.
Darius Boyd - Another ex-QLD representative, Boyd was reportedly unhappy that he was left out of the QLD squad for Wednesday's Origin clash. The extended break of the bye week will be a big benefit to Boyd who has struggled of late with a niggling injury and the week off could do wonders for Boyd. Brisbane will need Boyd's experience with a number of Origin players backing up and Boyd will want to put in a good performance to show he is still a viable Origin option for Kevin Walters.
My tip: It's hard to look past the Storm in this one, their dominance over the Broncos is a key factor and although the Storm have been down on their best form, they will be advantaged by a fresh Cameron Smith whos game sense will be a big plus out of dummy-half. Storm by 8.