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Round 18 NRL Preview

Jack Novak

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The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs will look for three straight wins this Saturday night when they take on Melbourne Storm at AAMI Park.

Showing some form of consistency with their results, the Bulldogs racked up 7 straight wins, followed by 3 straight losses, and then hit back with wins against Canberra (22-14) and Manly (23-16) the past two rounds.

Melbourne are experiencing one of the worst seasons in the clubs history. They currently sit 8th on the ladder with 8 wins and 7 losses.

 

In the corresponding game last year in Round 18, Melbourne were 3rd on the ladder with 11 wins 4 losses and 1 draw. This also shows how close the competition is this year, considering the Bulldogs lead the NRL with 10 wins from 15 games.

 

The Dogs faced a massive task last Friday against Grand Finalists Manly without their Origin stars, but they were up to the challenge. Tony Williams, Josh Jackson, Sam Kasiano and James Graham played acting halves and it really freed up the attack.

“We’ve got good depth in our team. I thought Tony Williams and Josh Jackson absolutely played out of their skin, in positions they’ve never really played before. Full credit to them and everyone’s working as a team and training hard,” said Bulldogs teammate and fullback Mitch Brown.

Graham deservedly received Man of the Match honours, racking up 163m from 22 runs, 38 tackles, 1 try, 1 line-break and 1 offload.

An early injury to prop Aiden Tolman meant Tim Browne had to play big minutes against his former club Manly. The monstrous forward didn’t disappoint, having his best game of the season with 10 runs for 71m and 23 tackles.

His under-rated partner in crime Dale Finucane, was equally enormous last week. He made 25 tackles (0 missed) and ran 20 times for 143 metres.

Melbourne will be breathe a sigh of relief knowing Origin is over and their representative players can come back into their side before their race to the finals.

The Storm have been extremely inconsistent of late, losing 3 of their past 5 matches, including a 22-0 loss to the Cowboys in Round 12, a 32-12 loss to the Roosters in Round 13 and a 24-12 loss to the Dragons in 16.

The Doggies have been ruthless in defence this year, leading the competition for points against. They’ve only leaked 240 points from their 15 games, at an average of 16 points per game. However, they rank 10th for points scored with 304 at an average of 20 points per game.

Coach Des Hasler has named a similar side to the one that beat Manly. Josh Morris comes back after a knee injury he suffered in Origin 1, with Krisnan Inu moving to wing and Drury Low on an extended bench. Aiden Tolman will miss 2-4 weeks with a hamstring injury he suffered against Manly, with Sam Kasiano to start.

Josh Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson return for the blue and white, pushing Tony Williams and Josh Jackson back to the second row. Reni Maitua and Dale Finucane drop back to the bench that includes Lloyd Perrett, Tim Browne, Damien Cook, Drury Low and Pat O’Hanlon.

Cooper Cronk hasn’t been named in the Storm side despite playing Origin 3 for QLD, with Ben Roberts named in his place. Expect Cronk, Smith, Chambers, Hoffman and Slater to back up from Origin for their club side that’s desperate for 2 points to stay in the hunt for the top 8.

The last time these two sides met was in Round 4, 2014. The teams played at NIB Stadium in Perth and the weather was awful. The Bulldogs conceded two early tries in the first 13 minutes before levelling at half time. The second half was an onslaught, the Dogs scoring 5 tries in 30 minutes to smash the Storm 40-12.

Dogs centre Tim Lafai believes this Saturday will be an entirely different story to Round 4, and considering the Dogs have never won at AAMI Park, it makes it a very difficult task.

“I’m sure they did their homework, it’s been a few weeks now since we versed them. They’ll come out firing, they’ll be hoping for their origin players to pull through. It will be a good battle especially in Melbourne, it’s a hard game to go down there and ask for a win,” said Lafai.

The Storm boasts a solid record against the Dogs since 2010, winning 6 of their last 10. However, the Bulldogs have won 3 of their last 5 encounters.

Head to Head

Played 33, Canterbury-Bankstown 17, Melbourne 16