Date: Saturday, September 21, 2019
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick Off: 7:40pm
Referees: Ben Cummins, Grant Atkins
Head-to-head: Played 36 Eels 13 Storm 22 Drawn 1
Odds: Eels $3.00 Storm $1.40
Broadcast: Fox League, Kayo
Last Four Encounters:
Storm 64 Eels 10 Suncorp Stadium (2019)
Storm 20 Eels 4 AAMI Park (2018)
Storm 18 Eels 16 AAMI Park (2017)
Eels 22 Storm 6 AAMI Park (2017)
The Warm Up
Before getting on with this week’s big clash, how amazing was that 58 to nil record shellacking of the Broncos! Our Eels were a pulchritudinous sight to behold as they registered a magnificent 11 tries and announced themselves as a team deserving of respect.
But last Sunday’s celebrations won’t mean a thing if the team fails to produce this week. At this time of year, a loss means your next game is six months away.
Regardless of changes to their personnel, the Storm has a culture which expects to be playing football in late September. Words such as consistency, execution and professionalism could easily feature on their coat of arms.
In contrast, Parramatta have a near pristine finals frequent flyer card, given that this will be just their fourth scan of that microchip in the last ten years.
What does that history mean? If last week has to be locked away then the past should mean nothing.
I’m not so sure you can ignore either the recent past or the stuff from deep in the memory banks.
The last two victories have provided the Eels with both confidence and momentum. That can be a massive factor during a finals series.
And though the Storm are last up losers, their rich history of finals football provides them with a wealth of experience that can prove crucial at this time of year.
I’m on the edge of my seat just thinking about what lies ahead. I’m not ready to jump off this ride yet.
Having a Punt
Warning! You are about to read some gloating.
After a self-prescribed sabbatical from the punting tip, it’s now been two weeks back in the winners circle. The head to head/over under double has delivered both weeks, so let’s stick solid.
And the TAB odds are deliciously attractive.
Take the Eels to win coupled with over 36.5 total match points and you’ll get, wait for it… $6!
If you play first try scorers, the favourites are listed below.
Eels – Sivo $9, Ferguson $11
Storm – Vunivalu $8, Addo-Carr $8
Feed Your Footy Brain
The Storm enjoy a perfect record in finals footy against the Eels, having won all five clashes. That said, the winning margin has only reached double figures once, and the Eels can feel aggrieved about crucial decisions in three of those matches.
The scores are listed below:
Storm 18 Eels 16 1999
Storm 12 Eels 6 2006
Storm 26 Eels 10 2007
Storm 23 Eels 16 2009 GF
Storm 18 Eels 16 2017
The Eels have won 6 of 17 matches against the Storm in Melbourne.
Tracking: Waqa Blake
It’s impossible to understand why the Panthers didn’t want to keep this talented centre. He’s not the only Eel to trace back to an origin at the Riff, but his mid season departure still has me simultaneously scratching my head and smiling like a Cheshire Cat.
Last week Blake was equal parts explosive pace and destructive defence. Given he’s only played eight games in Eels colours, he would just be scratching the surface of developing combinations with his right side team mates.
Imagine what will be possible with a pre-season under his belt!
Since debuting for the Eels, Blake has averaged 122 running metres per game, with 2.4 tackles breaks thrown in for good measure. Add in three tries, two try assists, five line breaks and a line break assist and you have an impressive introduction to his new club.
Early ball and space are words he would delight in hearing.
If he gets his fair share this week, the Eels take a big step towards victory.
Danger man: Cameron Munster
Let’s consider the Melbourne spine.
What Cameron Smith brings is a given. Hughes and Papenhuyzen are relatively raw and essentially unproven in finals footy. Therefore, the key to Melbourne’s chances lie with Munster.
The Maroons representative is the Storm’s X-factor. And it’s backed up by his stats.
In 22 games Munster has tallied 7 tries, 18 try assists, 8 line breaks and 17 line break assists. And yet, his own running games is just as impressive as he’s registered 85.6 running metres, and 2.5 tackle breaks per game.
If Munster is kept quiet, there’s a fair chance that you halve the effectiveness of the Storm’s spine. If he’s given too much latitude, he could easily be the difference between the two teams.
Eels: 1. Clint Gutherson 2.Maika Sivo 3.Michael Jennings 4.Waqa Blake 5.Blake Ferguson 6.Dylan Brown 7.Mitchell Moses 8.Kane Evans 9.Reed Mahoney 10.Junior Paulo 11.Shaun Lane 12.Manu Ma’u 13.Nathan Brown
Interchange: 14.Brad Takairangi 15.Daniel Alvaro 16.Tepai Moeroa 17.Marata Niukore 18.Ray Stone 19.Jaeman Salmon 20.Peni Terepo 21.Josh Hoffman
Storm: 1.Ryan Papenhuyzen 2.Suliasi Vunivalu 3.Will Chambers 4.Justin Olam 5.Josh Addo-Carr 6.Cameron Munster 7.Jahrome Hughes 8.Jesse Bromwich 9.Cameron Smith 10.Nelson Asofa-Solomona 11.Felise Kaufusi 12.Kenneath Bromwich 13.Dale Finucane
Interchange: 14.Brandon Smith 15.Tui Kamikamica 16.Max King 17.Joe Stimson 18.Curtis Scott 19.Tino Faasuamaleaui 20.Tom Eisenhuth 21.Brodie Croft
Junior Paulo vs Nelson Asofa-Solomona
This battle of the big men brings together two vastly different body types, but two impressively skilled individuals.
When Brad Arthur spoke to his team about backing themselves and their point of difference, he could have easily asked Junz to stand up as the epitome of that statement.
The 125kg prop possesses a skill set that is the envy of many halves. He can carry the ball through the middle and drop the ball off to supports, he can play a link role to wide running centres or back rowers, he can take the line on with power and footwork, or he can simply tuck the ball under the arm and take the tough run.
His numbers back up his skill set. An average of 122 running metres, two tackle breaks and 2.5 offloads per game is a great base. A season high of 180 running metres, 5 offloads and five tackle breaks is superb.
Though it’s rarely seen on match days, Paulo also possesses a kicking game and even enjoys piloting conversions from the sideline during training extras. Then again, it’s not unusual for certain Eels forwards to showcase such skills when the hard work is done!
The return of Junior to Parra this season has added another dimension to the Eels pack. His clash with the seasoned Storm forwards, especially at the start of the match, will be critical.
And if we’re talking big Melbourne forwards, they don’t come any larger than Nelson Asofa-Solomona.
The giant Kiwi stands 200cm tall (that’s 6ft 7 for dinosaurs like me) and weighs in at 115 kg (just over 18 stone). And mobility makes these dimensions doubly dangerous.
Though his average of 113 running metres per game falls short of Paulo’s returns, he sits very close to the leading metre eaters in the Storm pack – just behind Finucane at 120 metres and Jesse Bromwich at 118.
With tackle breaking and offload prowess, big NAS is a key player in the Storm’s attack. And his battle up front promises to be intriguing.
And The Winner Is
The Storm didn’t finish six points clear in the minor premiership due to luck. They perched themselves at the top of the ladder because of their incredible consistency. The difference between their best and worst was the proverbial length of a bee’s D.
Likewise, the Eels provided their own brand of consistency. They placed themselves in the Top 8 in Round one, then took up permanent residency from that point onwards. They did so because they could consistently bounce back from their poorer performances.
Don’t think for one moment that the Eels offloads and shifts are a recent addition to their repertoire. They’ve been honing their skills and that style since the pre-season. I’ll be surprised if they’ll let wet weather restrict such play.
In contrast I expect that the Storm will try to play a grinding game – nothing like their last encounter in Magic Round. Opening the field up will only play into the hands of a full strength Eels. But don’t underestimate the Eels unheralded pack.
The start of this match could determine the outcome. The Eels need to work from a strong early platform.
Parra to win in a very physical clash.
Eels 28 Storm 20
Man of the Match – Junior Paulo