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3 hours ago | Tim Costello
Grand Final rematch makes for a Great Friday
Sitting atop the NRL ladder with five wins from five matches, the Melbourne Storm will be out for vengeance on Good Friday in their first meeting with the Sydney Roosters since last year's premiership decider.
Ambushed by the Eastern Suburbs outfit in a clinical 21-6 defeat seven months ago, coach Craig Bellamy will have no shortage of motivation to inspire his side for the most-anticipated match of the season, along with maintaining a solid record on Good Friday that has yielded three wins from five matches over the past two decades.
Coming off a hard-fought 18-12 win in Townsville last Friday, the Storm will need to improve significantly having produced 13 errors against the Cowboys to finish with a completion rate of 67 per cent - their worst since Round 11 last year.
Boosted by the return of try-scoring winger Suliasi Vunivalu from a one-match ban in place of comeback kid Sandor Earl, Curtis Scott has been named on the extended bench and may be a late inclusion in place of Ryan Papenhuyzen or Marion Seve.
In a milestone for workhorse lock Dale Finucane, the aspiring New South Wales forward will play his 100th game for the Storm after joining from Canterbury in 2015.
Heading to Melbourne off the back of four straight wins and the ultimate bragging rights following their last meeting in the grand final, the Sydney Roosters will be confident of posting consecutive wins against the Storm for the first time since 2014 despite a less than stellar record.
Winning two of seven matches at AAMI Park and holding a 42 per cent success rate from 12 clashes against Melbourne throughout Trent Robinson's tenure, the Roosters will expect a tough encounter on Friday night given three of their past four meetings have been decided by three points or less.
Returning to Good Friday football following a one year hiatus, the Roosters will be hoping to overcome a poor record that has produced four wins from 11 appearances throughout the 2000s, however of the 17 players to defeat Newcastle in the 2017 fixture, seven members have been named to take the field on Friday night.
Losing Isaac Liu with a broken finger for at least a week, the return of Jared Waerea-Hargreaves will soften the blow after the Kiwi forward was named to start at prop, while Lachlan Lam is set to come onto the bench in a reshuffle that sees Mitchell Aubusson move to the centres following Joseph Manu's guilty dangerous contact verdict at the judiciary on Tuesday night.
Last meeting: Grand Final 2018 - Roosters 21 Storm 6
Who to watch: Breaking another premiership record against North Queensland to become the leading point scorer in NRL history last week, Storm captain Cameron Smith will be happy to settle for a victory of less significance on Friday night. Facing off against the side that provided Melbourne with immense anguish over the off-season, the 35-year-old hooker has started 2019 in trademark fashion averaging over 40 tackles per game along with defying his senior citizen status to play all bar six minutes over the opening five rounds. On track to reach 400 first grade games in July, Smith holds a legacy as one of the greatest players in the history of rugby league, while remaining just as influential in his twilight years as in his prime.
Having spent 14 years and over 300 games as a first grade player in Melbourne, Friday night shapes as the final time Cooper Cronk will take the field in the Victorian capital. Returning to AAMI Park for the first time since joining the Roosters last season, the 35-year-old halfback appears unlikely to re-sign given his age and the outstanding form of Luke Keary in recent times. Set to play an active role against the Storm following his iconic on-field coaching performance in the grand final last September, look for Cronk to relish the opportunity to make a final enduring memory at a venue that has seen him become one of the greatest of his era.
The favourite: With both sides standing in a league of their own on present form, neither Melbourne nor Sydney can be separated for Friday's top of the table clash.
My tip: Having produced their worst performance in the season decider last year, look for Melbourne to make amends against the reigning premiers in an absorbing low-scoring tussle. Storm by 5.
1. Jahrome Hughes 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 3. Will Chambers 21. Curtis Scott 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Cameron Munster 7. Brodie Croft 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Cameron Smith 10. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Kenneath Bromwich 13. Dale Finucane 14. Brandon Smith 15. Christian Welch 16. Tui Kamikamica 17. Ryan Papenhuyzen
1. James Tedesco 2. Daniel Tupou 3. Latrell Mitchell 17. Mitchell Aubusson 5. Matt Ikuvalu 6. Luke Keary 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 9. Victor Radley 14. Lindsay Collins 11. Boyd Cordner 12. Angus Crichton 13. Zane Tetevano 15. Nat Butcher 18. Sam Verrills 19. Sitili Tupouniua 20. Josh Curran
Referees: Ashley Klein, Grant Atkins; Sideline Officials: Todd Smith, Michael Wise; Video Referees: Steve Chiddy, Ben Galea;