Photo: Scott Davis © NRL Photos

MELBOURNE STORM v NORTH QUEENSLAND TOYOTA COWBOYS
2016 NRL Qualifying Final 
7.55pm, Saturday 10 September, AAMI Park

Referees: Ben Cummins, Grant Atkins
Review officials: Ashley Klein, Luke Patten, Steve Chiddy
Touch judges: Brett Suttor, Chris Butler

Cowboys: 4th (15 wins, nine losses, two byes): 34 points
Storm: 1st (19 wins, 5 losses, two byes): 42 points


TEAMS

Cowboys: 1 Lachlan Coote, 2 Kyle Feldt, 3 Justin O’Neill, 4 Kane Linnett, 5 Antonio Winterstein, 6. Michael Morgan, 7 Johnathan Thurston (c), 8 Matt Scott (c), 9 Jake Graville, 10 James Tamou, 11 Gavin Cooper, 12 Ethan Lowe, 13 Jason Taumalolo. Interchange: 14 Rory Kostjasyn, 15 Coen Hess, 16 Scott Bolton, 17 Ben Hannant. Coach: Paul Green.

Storm: 1 Cameron Munster, 2 Suliasi Vunivalu, 3 William Chambers, 4 Cheyse Blair, 5 Marika Koroibete, 6 Blake Green, 7 Cooper Cronk, 8 Jesse Bromwich, 9 Cameron Smith (c), 10 Tim Glasby, 11 Kevin Proctor, 12 Tohu Harris, 13 Dale Finucane. Interchange: 14 Kenny Bromwich, 15 Christian Welch, 16 Jordan McLean, 17 Ben Hampton. Coach: Craig Bellamy.


CASUALTY WARD

Cowboys: Sam Hoare (knee/shoulder) – season
Storm: Billy Slater (shoulder) – season


MATCH FACTS

  • History: Played 32 – Storm 22, Cowboys 10. The Storm have won five of the past eight matches between the sides, and three of the past four.

  • The Storm have twice prevailed over the Cowboys in 2016. They won 15-14 at Suncorp Stadium in Round 10 and 16-8 at 1300SMILES Stadium in Round 21. That match remains the Cowboys’ only home loss in 2016.

  • The last time the sides met at Melbourne’s AAMI Park was in the 2015 preliminary final where the Cowboys were victorious 32-12 en route to their maiden NRL premiership.

  • The Cowboys have a better points-scored record than Melbourne – 584 to 563 – but the Storm have conceded 302 points in season 2016 to the Cowboys’ 355.

  • The Cowboys have scored 98 tries in season 2016, to the Storm’s 97.

  • The hosts have conceded 51 tries this year to the visitors’ 58.

  • Just two of the Cowboys’ 98 tries have come from long range, or 51-100m out.

  • Melbourne have twice racked up 58-12 wins over the Cowboys – in Townsville in 2007 and in Melbourne in 2010.

  • Opposing halfbacks Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk will be busy with their respective kicking games on Saturday night. Thurston has kicked 249 times in play this season – ranking him third in the league – ahead of Cronk’s 239 kicks in play.

  • Storm skipper Cameron Smith leads the NRL in 40/20 kicks this season with four, while Cowboys fullback Lachlan Coote has three, including one in last week’s 32-16 win over the Titans.

  • Storm flyer Suliasi Vunivalu is the NRL’s leading try-scorer, with 22 four-pointers from 18 games.

  • Thurston leads the comp in line break assists this season with 24, tied with the Warriors and ahead of the Storm’s Cronk (19).

  • Cowboys lock Jason Taumalolo is 53 running metres behind Bulldogs’ skipper James Graham – 4056 to 4003. Big Jase averages 167m per game.

KEY MATCH-UP – THE EDGE FORWARDS

The Cowboys’ two wide-running starting back-rowers – Gavin Cooper and Ethan Lowe – have shaped as real attacking threats in 2016.

They run off classy halves in Thurston and Michael Morgan, and both players have scored nine tries this year.

If the Cowboys middle forwards and outside backs running out of danger lay a good platform and establish attacking field position, Lowe and Cooper will combine with their playmakers to test the Storm's defensive capabilities.

Similarly, the free-running, powerful duo will have their hands full against young Storm tyros Kevin Proctor and Tohu Harris.

While not quite as prolific in the try-scorers' ranks – Harris has eight and Proctor six for the year – these strong-charging, skilful forwards have proven a consistent handful for the Cowboys over recent matches between the sides, with Harris in particular terrorising the North Queenslanders twice this year.  

Most of the attention will be on Thurston, Cronk and Storm skipper Cameron Smith – watch out for fireworks on either edge of the ruck.


FINAL WORD

Cowboys coach Paul Green: "They're the best defensive team in the competition and are back to keeping teams under pressure."

Storm centre Will Chambers: "They’ve got JT and they are going to come down here with a good forward pack and some pretty quality outside backs there, they are going to throw a lot at us.”