Poor Melbourne. They’ve gone from Greg Inglis to Brett Finch in the past, and from Gareth Widdop to Ben Roberts now. They went from four premierships to two in the blink of an eye, and hold the record for the biggest defeat in grand final history.
A game against the Storm always holds a special bit of spice for Roosters fans, because their inept performance against Manly robbed Easts of perhaps its greatest record.
I’ve always had a healthy respect for the Storm, however. Grub factor aside, they always managed to stay near the top despite rule changes (admittedly becaus they bent them as soon as they were made) and an ever-changing forward pack. Through the big three, they managed to stay relevant. But the gloss is beginning to wear off, and the decline is becoming more evident by the week.
Billy Slater has been off, for the most part, this season, while the sinews in Cooper Cronk’s body have hardly lined up in a perfect whole. Yet they’ve still been among the Storm’s best, and both are out injured for Sunday.
But the Roosters shouldn’t be complacent against a team that beat them last year amid a refereeing clusterfuck that leaves this year’s ongoing complaints about refereeing seem like a timid whisper in comparison.
Thankfully, Ashley Klein isn’t refereeing this one, but Shayne Hayne was there last year and returns, accompanied by Henry Perenara.
So anything is equally possible.
Team for Round 13: Anthony Minichiello, Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jake Friend, Sam Moa, Sonny Bill Williams, Aidan Guerra, Frank-Paul Nu’uasala. Interchange: (From) Isaac Liu, Dylan Napa, Mitchell Aubusson, Remi Casty, Willis Meehan.
Roosters coach Trent Robinson has named an unchanged squad — youngster Willis Meehan has been named 18th man but is unlikely to play – heading into what was supposed to be a marquee mid-season match-up against the Melbourne Storm down at AAMI Park, but which has been savaged by injuries to the Roosters’ opponents. Thankfully, we get to watch the game on free-to-air television. Delayed. In Standard Definition.
The Chooks head into this one having won five of their past six games to rocket back into the top five. Boyd Cordner remains out injured with a syndesmosis injury but otherwise this is pretty much full strength. But anyone expecting a blowout just because two of the big three are missing should think again.
The Storm have typically had the wood over the Roosters, and Trent Robinson has said that Smith is the hardest player he’s had to coach against, as his reading of a game can change depending on circumstances. Let’s hope he’s figured it out.
How they’ll play
A typical play in these circumstances is to bomb the fuck out of the rookie fullback, and Munster looked a little shaky under pressure last week versus the Cows. He dropped the ball twice and almost gifted the Cows a try with an inexplicable pass back into goal while he was being dragged out only for it to be called back on the “common sense rule” (kinda ironic, really). Experience will teach him not to do that ever again, but the Roosters will test him out to see if he’s a quick learner.
The Storm will start a big squad with an excellent defender in Smith moving to halfback, meaning the centre of the field could be a try-less zone in this game.
However, they are also being forced to play Kurt Mann, and the Neophyte has already shown through just one game he needs to work on his reads. He missed three tackles against the Cows, but those don’t account for this misread by the rookie on Jonathan Thurston (Mann is the guy who ends up following JT over the line):
He was caught in a weird no-man’s land there, falling for the decoy and being caught on the outside shoulder, and his recovery was slow at best. This is Sonny Bill and RTS territory.
SBW could be the game’s greatest decoy here, allowing Mitchell Pearce to dummy back and dump off to RTS for a three-on-two overlap matching Mann and Tonumaipea up against himself, SKD and Mini. If Pearce plays this right Mini could nab a double.
But going the other way could also get s a result through Will Chambers. Technique-wise the centre is solid, but he missed three tackles last week and averages 3.22 per game, per NRL.com. Further, he can be caught rushing up, and a clever play could bamboozle him as it did against the Cowboys. Watch here as Ray Thompson cuts out Jonathan Thurston to set up a wide raid, with Chambers rushing in:
It looks as if he’s going in to take the intercept, then Thurston, then ultimately no-one. The Roosters could find some space by using Maloney a little deeper, and wait for Sisa Waqa to inevitably come in off his wing (watch up there again, he’s in field a good five metres on that play).
Otherwise, they’ll bomb the wings as they always do. Waqa is very “rocks or Diamonds” with his handling (averaging more than an error per game) and Tonumaipea isn’t a phenomenal leaper — although the latter comes up against either Mini or RTS, neither of who are in-the-air threats either.
Team for Round 13: Cameron Munster, Sisa Waqa, Will Chambers, Kurt Mann, Young Tonumaipea, Tohu Harris, Ben Roberts, Jesse Bromwich, Cameron Smith, Bryan Norrie, Kevin Proctor, Ryan Hoffman, Ryan Hinchcliffe. Interchange: Kenny Bromwich, Mitch Garbutt, Junior Moors, George Rose.
The Storm have named an unchanged squad from that which couldn’t score a point against the Cowboys. Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Ben Hampton are all unavailable, with Cameron “who?” Munster, Tohu “That’s my spot, Sonny” Harris and Ben “Better than Benji” Roberts starting at fullback, five-eighth and halfback respectively.
Yep, it’s a veritable “who’s who” of “what the fuck”. However, it’s expected that Cam Smith will move to halfback, with Harris moving to lock, Ryan Hinchcliffe shifting to hooker and Roberts to five-eighth as they did last week — although Smith eventually shifted back to hooker.
They were beaten 22-0 by the Cowboys last week but defended admirably in the second half, leaking just the solitary try away from home against a red-hot squad despite missing all those players. Smith played on one leg as well.
Two of those tries came in the last five minutes of the first half, and the Cowboys forced just three line breaks all game. The Storm play a compressed sliding defence and rarely allow breaks up the middle, while just one game ago they beat the Bunnies easily — albeit without two of their three stars.
How they’ll play
It goes without saying that they’ll rely heavily on Cam Smith for this one. He played parts of the game last week at halfback and they have no-one else, really — unless you count Ben Roberts, who has had just one good game this year and has welcomed with open arms the return of Benji Marshall to take whatever title Roberts previously held.
But if Ben Roberts is the answer, it may be time to re-think the question. And perhaps Bellamy bit off more than he can chew here with his love of a good project.
To be fair, Roberts hasn’t been awful in the few games he’s played this season. But if that’s the ceiling then you have issues. And we already know full well where the floor is. He’s in the halves this week, replacing Cronk — which is like replacing an iPhone with a Nokia 6210, only if the 6210 had no battery and dropped the ball twice a game.
Back back to Smith. He and Roberts shared the kicking duties last week to mixed effect, while Smith also accounted for the highest tackle count in the game (47).
He’s not a natural halfback, but regardless, try-scoring plays have to come from him — as Roberts didn’t drop the ball last week and as such is long overdue.
He will likely direct attack to the wings, specifically Mini/RTS’ flank. Both haven’t acquitted themselves this year as phenomenal defenders (Mini has missed 25 per cent of his tackles this year, RTS 21 percent — and both are worst at the club this year). They come up against Tonumaipea who runs hard and can offload (13 in 11 games), so he needs to be swamped with cover from SKD.
And Cam Smith is a smart dude, so expect some grubbers aimed at the feat of the unbendable Mini, hoping he misfires on clean-up duty.
Other than that, with Cronk and Slater out the Storm are a blank book. I have no idea how to read this iteration of the Storm, but without those guys, let’s be honest: there’s not much to read.
I asked Storm expert and 26 Rounds columnist Mitch 1 (@ItsMitchell180) for his expert take:
Despite being down two stars, this is going to be another slog, and while the Roosters should win 13+ the Storm will be well-prepared for the Roosters. They’ll defend hard and although they may not trouble the scorekeepers too often, the Roosters won’t either — at least as much as many think they will.
This shapes as another Bulldogs-style slog with a scoreline that isn’t exactly a blow-out but isn’t something in which the Roosters are really threatened — something in the 26-6 range and with a late try to bring up the inflated scoreline.
Man of the Match could be Sonny Bill Williams, who heads to Melbourne for the first time since returning to the NRL. But I’ll go with Mitchell Pearce — his choices on the line will be the difference in this one, and his kicking to the wings could reap rewards in the form of errors or tries.