Griffin: Where Storm, Eels will be won and lost
Dominant minor premiers Melbourne were stunned in the final minute by Canberra last week, while Parramatta made their presence felt with a mauling of Brisbane.
The pair meet in Saturday night's elimination final and Anthony Griffin has the lowdown on what will make or break the clash for both teams.
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HOW THEY PLAY
Both teams average 1650 running metres. The Storm get them methodically marching as a unit behind Cameron Smith. The Eels throw more passes and use their size and speed. The Eels average 13 offloads to the Storm's eight and have scored more tries from kicks than any other team. Watch for Smith to take more control of Melbourne's attack and their spine - Cameron Munster in particular should have a more involved and improved execution this week. Melbourne have been the best defensive team all year and will be hard to crack. Look for Eel Mitch Moses to have a couple of new tricks up his sleave especially in his kicking game. Maika Sivo has been on fire and they will be looking for him to break the Storm open. The Storm might just have a stronger 80 minutes in them.
PREDICTION - Storm by 10
The No.1 team for both attack (averaging 26 points) and defence (12.5). Plenty of finals experience - this is Cameron Smith's 15th finals series, including eight grand finals, and he has nine of the 2017 premiership side playing beside him. The Storm know what finals football is all about and their coach Craig Bellamy has been there every step of the way with Smith. They have won 20 games and lost only four this season with the biggest losing margin being four points. They haven't lost two games in a row all year and thrashed the Eels 64-10 when they met in round nine. Smith is an 83 per cent goal kicker and can handle pressure.
They were off the pace last week. Their right edge conceded a try in the first minutes of the game. Hughes has come in for Croft primarily to fix that problem but again he, Chambers and Vunivalu looked disconnected at times. The way they conceded the last try said it all. They beat themselves with handling errors at crucial times. Their attack was deep and clunky in patches and their communication seemed off. Hughes and Munster have only played 4 games together in the halves and along with Papenhuyzen are not natural ball players. The starting forward pack is very strong but the injury to origin forward Christian Welch has affected the interchange rotation.
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No more second chances - everything goes on the line this weekend. We weren't at our best last week but still should have won the game. Have confidence in our system and effort that have won us 20 games this season. Get the start right this week and drag the Eels into a painful grind. Produce a disciplined and defensive performance that we know we are capable of and our attack will build off the back of that. The Eels are a dangerous attacking team right across the park. Our effort areas in all aspects of our defence are vital especially on offloads and kicks. We have come this far, and it is not going to finish this weekend.
If I were the Storm
I would get ready to start fast and make the Eels uncomfortable from the first play. Simple, brutal attack through Asofa-Solomona and Co and get Munster, Hughes and Papenhuyzen to take the line on early with footwork and change of direction plays. Smith kicks early from dummy half down the left side of the field. When possible bomb Ferguson - he might have an early error in him. Get physical with Sivo on play two or three. Watch for Moses - he might stay on the left looking for an early 40/20. When the Eels are attacking lock up their forwards - Ma'u, Brown and Takairangi all have late offloads in them. Control the ruck so that we can have good line speed at Moses and Brown. Look to sack them all night - pressure. Papenhuyzen needs to get our numbers right as much as possible. It will be wet and greasy, their outside backs won't get the room to move like they had last week. When I am attacking in their half play flat and fast off Smith and use the width of his pass to dig hard into their edges. Both Moses and Brown are vulnerable defenders. Kenny Bromwich and Kaufusi can create play the ball speed.
Parramatta get out of the blocks faster than any team. They blew Brisbane off the park last week and put 12 points on Manly before they knew what happened the week before. They have size and speed all over the park. Maika Sivo is the league's top try scorer (22), and experienced origin players Blake Ferguson and Michael Jennings are in great form. Waqa Blake provides another big man with blinding speed to their right-side attack. Mitchell Moses leads the NRL in try assists both in passing and kicking. With Nathan Brown and Kane Evans their forward depth has never been stronger. One of the best things about last week's win was that they only had to make 203 tackles. The Storm had to make 314 in a very physical, bruising encounter.
Playing away from Bankwest Stadium - the Eels haven't beaten a top eight side away from home this year (they beat the Raiders in their "home game" in Darwin). They lack finals experience in their spine. Dylan Brown and Reed Mahoney experienced finals football for the first time last week and while Moses and Clint Gutherson were there in 2017, they only tasted victory for the first time against the Broncos. Have struggled defensively - they finished the season ranked eighth in points (averaging 20 a game) and 14th for missed tackles. Playing out a strong 80 minutes has also been a problem.
Confident but steeled for a real elimination final. Last week's opposition weren't great. Reset and get our heads around the enormity of the task. We are playing the minor premiers - the best defensive team on their home ground. They are not unbeatable down there - they have lost three games at home in the back half of the year but now they are playing for their lives. The crowd will be against us, it will be a cold wet night and we might be without the ball for long periods. Last week's win has given us the right to be in this game, but that's all we have earned - an opportunity.
If I were the Eels
I would be in Melbourne already. Recovery and review on Monday - not much of either needed and then wipe it and focus on Saturday. Sleep in Tuesday and see your family and then we fly to Melbourne on Tuesday afternoon. Get into enemy territory as soon as possible and get to work. The points wont flow like last week and its important we build pressure. Kick long to our right - this keeps all their speed and footwork - Papenhuyzen, Addo-Carr and Munster - in front of us. Physical in defence - watch Smith's tackle-four kick coming out of trouble by our markers and back three. Defend their good periods - stay square on Smith and always cover the forward leads, then jam hard at their playmakers - they are not natural ballplayers. When our opportunity comes with the ball stay composed and favour our strong left side - Hughes, Chambers and Vunivalu have been vulnerable on their right. Moses has 25 kick try assists so keep a cool head on last play - it may be our best chance against this defence.