In the first of his weekly columns, Joey predicts Brisbane will not only beat Craig Bellamy's side on Thursday night, they will also be the premiers come October.
STORM v BRISBANE, AAMI Park, Thursday, 7.50pm
I’m not just predicting Brisbane to cause an upset against Melbourne in the first match of the season: I think they will win the competition. They’ve got the best young forward pack we’ve seen in the last 20 years. It just depends on what their halves, Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima, can do off the back of those forwards. They’re the keys to the season.
SEIBOLD v BELLAMY
This match isn’t just a battle of styles but also a battle of coaches. New Broncos coach Anthony Seibold did his apprenticeship for three-or-so years under Craig Bellamy in Melbourne. If you look at the coaches to come out of Melbourne, they are all successful. They all take that blueprint and the same principles, especially defensively, and they all have success. Michael Maguire was the best example of it at Souths when they won the comp in 2014.
Seibold has that but he’s also very attack-minded, too. I heard an interview this week in which he said, “Our halves will be more dominant”. He’d noticed in the past how they’ve been getting the ball off their front-rowers tipping balls out the back. He promised both halves would be up on the advantage line much more this season. Which means they will be getting it earlier — and getting the ball wide earlier. The word I kept hearing from Seibold was “dominant”. Which means they get quality ball.
The big thing with Brisbane is that you will see a different defensive system. Former coach Wayne Bennett’s defensive pattern revolved around getting off the line, then steadying but then having a drift or slide defence. Seibold will be getting his players to come up more aggressively, ready to shut down the inside players of the Storm.
SEE YOU SLATER
The big key for me is no Billy Slater at fullback for the Storm. He’s retired and they will feel the loss of him straight away.
Slater controlled the Storm’s defence but he was also the link between the halves, the forwards and outside backs in attack. He would point them in the right direction because he had the vision of a halfback. In attack, hooker Cameron Smith controlled the ruck but Billy controlled which side they would go to. He’d be looking at numbers in the opposition’s defensive line. So I’m worried about where Melbourne’s points will now come from. There will be a lot of pressure on Cameron Munster. He’s their key because Slater is not there, floating around.
Melbourne can win this match by playing their normal style. They are so well drilled and they will back their defence to win. But they will miss Slater in this regard, too.
I’d always watch Slater when Melbourne were defending. Melbourne defend around the ruck with three men always in the tackle. They can lock the ball up and control the ruck better than any other side. In the past, whenever you saw the third man come out of the tackle, his eyes would be for Billy. Billy would be looking at the other side’s attacking threat and point out to his defenders where they are going.
Jahrome Hughes is the new Storm fullback. But he isn’t Billy Slater.
THE MONEY PLAY
Nikorima’s big play is the show-and-go. He’s quick and he will want to get one-one-one with a tired forward close to the line. And he can do that by putting Munster in two minds.
The play will start from the middle of the field with the Broncos on the attack. Andrew McCullough from dummy half will send a long ball across a forward to Nikorima, who will catch the ball facing Kenny Bromwich or whoever is the second defender off the ruck for the Storm. Nikorima’s favourite play from there is to idle — it’s called tempo running — before accelerating really quickly. At the the same time, he’ll have his backrower, probably Jaydn Su’A in this match, mirroring the same line as Nikorima. They will meet at Munster and Munster will then have to make a decision.
If Munster comes in, Nikorima will play short. But what he really wants is for Munster to get to Su’A so he can skin them with his speed on the inside. Then it becomes a footrace between him and Bromwich. Only one winner there.
PLAYER TO WATCH: MATT LODGE
The Broncos prop break ups the Storm’s defence. You can’t beat Melbourne with normal block plays and structured plays because their defensive structure is so good. You’ve got to beat them with offloads. For a big guy, Lodge has got footwork, which gets him one-on-one with defenders. But he’s also got a great offload out the back, which then brings Nikorima and Milford into the equation. That’s how they like to play: unstructured. If Lodge can get away some offloads, it will break open the Storm defence, especially late in each half.
JOEY’S TIP: Broncos by 4.
FIRST TRY-SCORER: Corey Oates.