Competition - NRL
Round -  23
Teams – Raiders V Storm
Date – 15th August 2016
Venue – Canberra Stadium
Photographer – Mark Nolan
Description –

Melbourne Storm v Canberra Raiders
Saturday September 24, 7.40pm
AAMI Park

A spot in the 2016 NRL Grand Final is on the line this Saturday night at AAMI Park as Storm and the Raiders look to book a date to the big dance.
The Raiders have not been there since 1994 while Storm will be looking to make it back for the sixth time in 11 years.
As if the game could not be any bigger it will also mark Cooper Cronk’s 300th as the champion halfback becomes just the 25th player in NRL history to reach the coveted milestone.
Melbourne and Canberra finished the home and away season in first and second place respectively though they did it in vastly different ways.
Storm captured the minor premiership on the back of incredible defence that saw them concede just 10.8 points per game.
The Raiders on the other hand were an attacking powerhouse, scoring 104 points more than any other team this season.
Ricky Stuart’s men earned the right to make the trip to Melbourne after their 22-12 semi-final win over Penrith and have stuck with the same side for this week while Melbourne’s 16-10 Qualifying final win over the Cowboys allowed the squad to rest their bodies.
There will need to be at least one player come into the side though for the injured Nelson Asofa-Solomona (elbow) with Felise Kaufusi, Matt White and Christian Welch all in line for a possible call up.

Be at AAMI Park for the Preliminary final on Saturday night! Tickets on sale now.

Milestone: Cooper Cronk – 300 NRL Games
 

Key Matchups:

Cameron Smith v Josh Hodgson
If you believe what the pundits say, these two men are the front-runners for this year’s Dally M medal. Hodgson has enjoyed a stellar season in his second year in the NRL, tying with Josh Papalii for the Mal Meninga Medal earlier this week (Canberra’s Play of the Year). He will be up against the Storm skipper who has been in this situation many times before and knows exactly what is required to win these kind of games. Both hookers are crucial to their sides' chances, making their match-up the main one to watch on Saturday night.

Cheyse Blair v Joey Leilua
Leilua was one of the key difference makers the last time these two teams met in Round 23, scoring a double including his first inside the opening minute of the game. The partnership he has formed with Jordan Rapana on the Raiders’ right edge has become a vital part of their attack. Blair played in that loss to Canberra before returning to the side in Round 26 to score a double over the Sharks and had a brilliant defensive game against the Cowboys. Blair’s eight tries from 15 games this season is a career best for him and he will no doubt be up to the task of stopping his in-form opposing number.
 

History: Played 37: Storm 26, Raiders 11. This will be just the second time in six games these two teams will meet in Melbourne.
 

What we’ve said:

“As I said to the boys all week, I don’t want to disrespect 300 games because it is a massive achievement, but there is something greater on offer here for this football club” – Cooper Cronk

“They’ve got a really strong back five and we know we’ve got to play really well to nullify them but also to not give their forward pack as much momentum in the first 10 minutes. We need to start strong” – Cameron Munster

“Your preparation is everything. You’ve got to make sure you do every single little thing right to be prepared for such a big game” – Tohu Harris
 

What they’ve said:

"It's a do-or-die attitude I have. We have been pretty desperate lately" - Sia Soliola

"It will be a big challenge for Hodgo, going up against someone who has been doing it for years in the NRL - the Australian captain, the Maroons captain, and especially when he's leading Melbourne down there” - Josh Papalii
 

Match Officials: Referee - Matt Cecchin; Assistant - Alan Shortall; Touch Judges - Michael Wise & Jeff Younis; Review Officials - Ben Galea & Ashley Klein; Senior Review Official - Bernard Sutton.
 

Broadcast: TV – Channel NINE & Fox Sports 1, Radio – ABC Grandstand, Triple MMM & 2GB, Online – NRL Digital Pass.
 

Squads:

Melbourne Storm

Canberra Raiders

1. Cameron Munster

1. Jack Wighton

2. Suliasi Vunivalu

2. Edrick Lee

3. William Chambers

3. Jarrod Croker ©

4. Cheyse Blair

4. Joey Leilua

5. Marika Koroibete

5. Jordan Rapana

6. Blake Green

6. Blake Austin

7. Cooper Cronk

7. Aidan Sezer

8. Jesse Bromwich

8. Junior Paulo

9. Cameron Smith (c)

9. Josh Hodgson

10. Jordan McLean

10. Shannon Boyd

11. Kevin Proctor

11. Josh Papalii

12. Tohu Harris

12. Elliott Whitehead

13. Dale Finucane

13. Sia Soliola

 

 

Interchange

Interchange

14. Kenny Bromwich

14. Kurt Baptiste

15. Tim Glasby

15. Luke Bateman

16. Christian Welch

16. Paul Vaughan

17. Ben Hampton

17. Joe Tapine

20. Matt White

 

21. Felise Kaufusi