Melbourne Storm v Brisbane Broncos

AAMI Park, Friday Night

As a club, the Storm are no strangers to the big stage having appeared in nine preliminary finals over the last 12 years however as Billy Slater said on Tuesday, "if you're not nervous at this time of the year, it doesn't mean enough to you."

The Broncos head into Melbourne with a dismal record against Wayne Bennett's former protégé and his men having won just 4 out of 23 matches since the 2006 decider.

Speed and decisiveness is what will give the Broncos a red-hot chance - both with and without the ball - this Friday night as the likes of James Roberts and Jordan Kahu must use their quickness and agility to their advantage while their back rowers need to pressure Melbourne's mobile big men at the line in order to give themselves the best chance to upset the heavy favourites.

Melbourne remain unchanged from their nail-biting win over the Eels a fortnight ago in what many believe is a blueprint on how to take down the Storm juggernaut. Darius Boyd's inclusion is a massive boost for the Broncos while Tevita Pangai Junior gives them some added muscle on the bench.

Both sides are capable of racking up a big score and have proven that over the course of the season and it is both sides right edge doing much of the damage. Together, they have score an astonishing 89 tries in 2017 on the right side of their attack with Suliasi Vunivalu and Corey Oates doing much of the damage. Oates, at this stage, has passed all precautions necessary to line up this Friday following a sickening collision last weekend in what will prove to be a big match up between the two wingers.

Will Chambers and James Roberts both have had elite seasons in the centres and are also a big reason as to why both teams have been successful down that side of the field. Defensively is where the problem lies for the Broncos as they've conceded 33 tries to Melbourne's 18 in that part of the field.

With Benji Marshall returning to the bench, both of Brisbane's halves will have the chance to put on a show against the very side that put in big offers for their talents in recent months. Anthony Milford's finals series has been somewhat subdued so far while Kodi Nikorima excelled at the back in Boyd's absence. Finally, Ben Hunt will need to continue his impressive run of form if he's to extend his Bronco career by one more game.

The Storm are the best side in the league - they've scored the most points and conceded the least - but a side with belief can take down anyone on their day and that's exactly what the Broncos have right now.

For Brisbane, to them, it doesn't matter what personnel take the park as they believe as a collective that they can get the job done. In saying that, in a game that will mark the final time Melbourne's Big 3 run out together at AAMI Park, it'll be mighty hard to end Cooper Cronk's Melbourne career in front of over 25,000 adoring fans.

Storm by 12.

Sydney Roosters v North Queensland Cowboys

Allianz Stadium, Saturday Night

Everything has been stacked against the Cowboys for the majority of 2017 and they wouldn't rather it any other way. Heavy underdogs against their bogey side at a stadium where their record is dismal. Write them off at your own peril.

They come up against a Roosters side who narrowly edged the Broncos in week one of the finals and remain well rested as they return to full strength with the return of Zane Tetevano to the bench.

The Roosters have turned Allianz into a fortress, having not been beaten there since March while the Cowboys haven't knocked off the Roosters at their home ground since the stadium was known as the Sydney Football Stadium in 2010. Despite all of this, North Queensland won at the stadium just two weeks ago and as they embark on their third trip south of the Queensland border in as many weeks, none of these stats will be diminishing the confidence of them or their fans.

Matt Scott's peculiar selection in a 21-man squad raised eyebrows yesterday and while coach Paul Green said the return of his co-captain was highly unlikely, he believed he owed it to Scott given the work has he put in since undergoing surgery on his ACL.

Scott or not, the Cowboys are in form and believe in what they're doing. Michael Morgan has revelled in Johnathan Thurston's absence, owning the side in attack while Jason Taumalolo has been a beast right throughout 2017. Justin O'Neill's return last week against Parramatta also gave the side an added boost as he brings a wealth of experience to the side.

The Sharks had been vulnerable all season and while the Eels were in red hot form, they form had been susceptible to lapses in concentration and that's something the Roosters will not have this weekend.

The Roosters start and finish games better than most sides in the competition, having scored a staggering 30 tries in the opening 20 minutes this season while crossing 24 times in the final 20 minutes. It's in the middle 40 minutes of the game - 20 minutes either side of half time - where the Cowboys can really push the home side with a complete 80-minute performance.

It also happens their poorest defensive sector of the game as well, something which the Cowboys will no doubt look to exploit. In saying that, the Roosters are the kings of the close finish.

In 2017, 12 of their wins have come under a six-point margin and you don't have to look any further than their last game to see how they run games out.

Latrell Mitchell's statement try following his emphatic fend on Broncos speedster James Roberts that sent the Roosters to this stage of the finals has not only given him but the entire side a boost in confidence ahead of the grand final qualifier.

The Cowboys must bring it defensively from the outset if they're to spring a third upset in a row. Their attack is capable however if it isn't at the peak of their powers - something that will be hard to achieve against the stifling defence that Sydney possess - the curtain could draw closed reasonably early in this contest.

The Roosters are hosting a preliminary final for a reason and we expect them to advance to the big dance next weekend.

Roosters by 8.

Comments are closed.