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3 hours ago | Tim Costello
Melbourne look to Storm on Raiders comeback parade
With their season hanging by a thread heading into last week, a spirited performance by the Raiders saw the Green Machine move to within two wins of the top eight. Facing off against their 2016 Preliminary Final foes, coach Ricky Stuart could do worse than re-appropriating the late Jim Morrison to inspire his charges:
"Take them by the hand / make them understand / the season on you depends / the Storm will never end / gotta love the game plan".
While their record against the Storm has yielded just two wins from five matches since 2014, the two victories have both been at GIO Stadium, including a spirited 22-8 showing that gave birth to the Viking Clap ritual. With Josh Papalii set to spend the next fortnight on the sidelines, Joe Tapine will start in the backrow, providing journeymen Michael Oldfield with a club debut off the bench. Alongside the one-time Panther, Kurt Baptiste will celebrate his 50th appearance for Canberra since being offered a lifeline three years ago.
Sitting atop the premiership ladder with a one game buffer between their closest rivals, the Storm will head to Canberra intent on developing a form line destined to result in Cameron Smith hoisting the Provan-Summons trophy aloft on October 1. Boosted by six of their Queensland stars returning, the Storm will be well-placed to come away from Canberra with two points having last lost with a complete squad all the way back in May. Having assembled a roster flushed with depth across the park, coach Craig Bellamy has the good fortune of including two internationals on his bench, as well as experienced forward Robbie Rochow in the extended squad. With this degree of depth providing the Storm with the ability to keep players honest, don't be surprised to see changes to the named side an hour before kick-off. Coming away with some dominant wins in Canberra over the years, including a 68-4 thrashing in 2013, the Storm will be hoping for a nostalgic result while being aware of the present threat posed by the Raiders.
Last meeting: Preliminary Finals 2016 - Storm 14 Raiders 12
Who to watch: Having been largely unsighted in recent season, the presence of Dave Taylor last Friday was reminiscent of the young Bronco touted for greatness as a teenager. Charging into the opposition defence with no concern for self-preservation, the 29-year-old prop was rewarded with an assist in the match-sealing play against the Dragons to secure his place in the Raiders squad. Having represented Queensland and Australia over the past eleven years before cutting short his time with Catalans in France, Taylor is fully aware of the opportunity afforded by Ricky Stuart and will be out to maintain the form that saw him change the outcome of a match in just 22 minutes of game time.
There is every chance Young Tounamaipea will not line up for Melbourne in the twilight of Saturday evening, but should the 24-year-old take the field expect him to make the left centre role his own. Following Cheyse Blair's season-ending injury sustained against Parramatta, Tounamaipea will face off against impressive youngster Curtis Scott for a place in the Storm backline heading towards September. Having shown his versatility and reliability whenever an opportunity has presented itself, the Melbourne junior has often fallen behind in the pecking order. Blessed with a host of speed and a drive to succeed, look for Tounamaipea to step up and prove his worth as a regular first grader.
The favourite: With a full complement of representative stars well-rested following yet another Queensland series win, the Storm are expected to continue their surge towards a remarkable minor premiership victory.
My tip: While the Raiders will gain a great deal of confidence from last Friday's extra time triumph, Melbourne have too much class across the park to go down. Storm by 10.
1. Jack Wighton 2. Nick Cotric 3. Jarrod Croker 4. Joseph Leilua 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Blake Austin 7. Aidan Sezer 8. Junior Paulo 14. Kurt Baptiste 10. Shannon Boyd 13. Iosia Soliola 12. Elliot Whitehead 9. Josh Hodgson 11. Joseph Tapine 15. Luke Bateman 16. Dave Taylor 17. Michael Oldfield
1. Billy Slater 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 3. William Chambers 19. Curtis Scott 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Cameron Munster 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Cameron Smith 15. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 11. Felise Kaufusi 17. Joe Stimson 13. Dale Finucane 10. Tim Glasby 14. Kenneath Bromwich 16. Nate Myles 18. Mark Nicholls
Referees: Matt Cecchin, Chris Butler; Sideline Officials: Phil Henderson, Jeff Younis; Video Referees: Bernard Sutton, Bryan Norrie;