Hello and welcome to live coverage of the opening match of round 14 of the 2020 NRL premiership season. Sydney Roosters v Melbourne Storm will be underway at the SCG around 7.50pm.
We should be in for a treat. In my opinion this is the highest quality rivalry in modern Australian sport (tweet me any alternatives).
The Roosters are two-time defending NRL premiers, Storm lifted the Provan-Summons Trophy the season before that, and have two other grand final appearances since 2016 for good measure. Since 2017, the average margin when these teams have met is fewer than five points, and only once in that period has there been a double digit victory. When these sides came together in round eight a captivating encounter went to golden point after an extraordinary last 12 minutes that featured three tries and two last-ditch field goals.
Unsurprisingly, it’s another all top-four collision with the Storm arriving in second place on the ladder, the Roosters in fourth. But while Melbourne, with a six-point buffer, seem destined for a double chance in the finals, the stakes are higher for Sydney. Defeat tonight would open the door for Canberra to move level on points, while Newcastle, Souths, and Cronulla are all just one win further back. The Chooks have also been handed a treacherous run home with their final four fixtures all against top-eight neighbours.
During this rivalry’s recent golden age, the team lists will not often have taken on such a depleted look. Melbourne are without both inspirational captain Cameron Smith and star playmaker Cameron Munster, while the Roosters are missing their own skipper Boyd Cordner, as well as Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Brett Morris, Angus Crichton, Daniel Tupou, and Victor Radley.
That level of disruption makes the Roosters a difficult side to gauge for form. They have won their past three on the bounce, but without much to spare, and they were upset by the Raiders before that. Storm, by contrast, are on a seven-match tear featuring four scores in excess of 40. Craig Bellamy’s side have only been kept below 20-points once since round two.
Who wins? You’d be a brave punter to call with any certainty.