Melbourne v Canberra | Saturday, September 24, 7.40pm (AEDT), AAMI Park, Melbourne
The indefatigable Melbourne know what it takes to get the job done and will be confident of qualifying for their sixth Grand Final showing in the past 11 seasons when they confront the upstart Raiders.
This match also marks the 300th appearance of Cooper Cronk in club colours and the noted big-match player should be primed to steer his side around the park with a typically assured display.
While the final margin was close, the Storm never really looked like losing to the Cowboys as their defence really stepped it up a notch and it was noticeable how much of an advantage their speed off the line gave them as the match wore on.
However, there has been considerable fallout from that fixture with Ethan Lowe’s serious neck injury the subject of a post-match complaint from the Cowboys and the inevitable criticism of Melbourne’s tackling techniques that seem to surface at this stage every year.
Neither Craig Bellamy or this week’s counterpart Ricky Stuart were buying into that though, with the Canberra mentor more interested in the refereeing corps’ ability to police a wide 10m than any wrestle as the freedom to play an expansive game surely presents the visitors with their best prospect of a result.
The Raiders withstood a second half fightback from Penrith to remain alive and will draw inspiration from their surprisingly comfortable win over the Storm a little over a month ago.
Stuart was also wholehearted in his praise of ‘tough Pom’ Josh Hodgson who got through the game with minimal disruption and his battle with Cameron Smith for control and incision around the ruck should have a major bearing on which side comes out on top.
Canberra’s record in Melbourne is surprisingly good and they have managed to come back with the points on three of their last four trips south of the border, with Cameron Munster readying his team to prepare for an ‘ambush’ from an opponent with little to lose.
With the fitness of both Hodgson and Blake Austin confirmed, neither side has any significant ‘ins or outs’ of note.
Despite going 9-2 at home during the regular season, the Storm have been bundled out of the playoffs on their own patch in each of the previous three seasons and are entitled to feel a little nervy.
That said, while the Raiders are a dangerous team who warrant respect, it’s hard to tip against Melbourne on the strength of what we have seen this season.
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Last time they met: Rd.23 – Canberra 22-8
Line tip: Melbourne -7.5
1 Cameron Munster 2 Suliasi Vunivalu 3 Will Chambers 4 Cheyse Blair 5 Marika Koroibete 6 Blake Green 7 Cooper Cronk 8 Jesse Bromwich 9 Cameron Smith 10 Jordan McLean 11 Kevin Proctor 12 Tohu Harris 13 Dale Finucane. Interchange: 14 Kenny Bromwich 15 Tim Glasby 16 Christian Welch 17 Ben Hampton 20 Matt White 21 Felise Kaufusi
1 Jack Wighton 2 Edrick Lee 3 Jarrod Croker 4 Joey Leilua 5 Jordan Rapana 6 Blake Austin 7 Aidan Sezer 8 Junior Paulo 9 Josh Hodgson 10 Shannon Boyd 11 Josh Papalii 12 Elliott Whitehead 13 Iosia Soliola. Interchange: 14 Kurt Baptiste 15 Luke Bateman 16 Paul Vaughan 17 Joseph Tapine