Top of the Table Clash NRL 2011 Round 20 – Storm v Broncos

NRL fans and footy punters are treated to a mouth-watering top of the table clash tonight, Round 20 of the 2011 NRL Telstra Premiership kicking-off with the ladder-leading Melbourne Storm hosting the rapidly rising Brisbane Broncos at AAMI Park.

It is a blockbuster battle between two of the real-deal 2011 Premiership contenders, the 30th time they play each other, and possibly a milestone match for Melbourne who are vying for their eighth consecutive NRL win.

With seven straight wins, the Storm are enjoying their best roll since the lead-up to their 2007 Grand Final win (since stripped), and tonight’s home game is expected to be played out in front of a 30,000 plus crowd.

In the NRL match odds at Luxbet, the in-form Storm are unsurprisingly the favourites paying a still backable $1.50 to secure their spot at the top of the ladder.

Darren Lockyer and the rest of the Brissie boys are paying $2.65 to claim an upset NRL result, the Broncos well-positioned to give Locky a career-last NRL finals bid currently sitting fourth on the ladder.

Tonight will also be Lockyer’s final NRL game in Melbourne, the end-of-career events continuing to arise the closer to retirement the great man gets.

With retirement rolling closer along with the September semis, Storm player Cooper Cronk is not expecting an easy win especially with Locky in the mix.

“Don’t count out the Brisbane Broncos with Darren Lockyer,” Cronk, who played alongside the instrumental Maroon No. 7 for Queensland’s sixth straight Origin win this year.

“The emotion surrounding him and his last season can be something that can get a team over the line.

“For me now, it’s more about being really consistent no matter who you play.

“I know it’s a big game for the club in terms of first versus four, it’s Friday night football in Melbourne and we’ve got the new jerseys.

“In reality it’s just another stepping stone to what is hopefully going to be a big back-end of the eyar for us.

“They’re a good team in good form, so it’s going to be a good test for us.”

With both NRL teams back to full strength after the State of Origin period, it is only the Storm’s recent purple patch and home ground advantage separating them from Brisbane in the NRL betting markets.

Punters with Top 4 bets on at Luxbet will also be sweating on this one, especially if their money’s on Brisbane.

The Broncos come off a big 20-point victory over the Wooden Spoon-favoured Titans from last week’s Rivalry Round, while the Storm easily accounted for the Raiders 26 – 0 in Round 19.

If the Storm loose in an upset tonight, the Manly Sea Eagles get a chance to reclaim their spot at the top if they defeat the Panthers on Sunday arvo.

A loss for Brisbane and they could drop to fifth on the ladder if the Thurston-less Cowboys bounce back from their nasty 38 – 18 loss to the Tigers last week and finish ahead of the Gold Coast on the scoreboard at Skilled Park on Saturday arvo.

“Once you get past the rep season, you can see the finish line and all those still in contention are trying to find another gear to jostle for spots,” Brisbane coach Anthony Griffin said.

Melbourne are only likely to improve from their clinical performance last week, as long as they don’t crumble under the mounting pressure, with hooker Cameron Smith and prop Bryan Norrie both named in the starting line-up after starting off the bench last week.

Griffin is well-aware of the danger Smith presents in the ruck, something he has warned his players to keep on top of tonight.

“He’s probably the best hooker in the competition,” Griffin said.

“He’s their captain, he handles the ball more than any other player and he’s the most influential player in the comp at least for this week, as far as we’re concerned.”

Brisbane have managed to maul Melbourne down there before, easily defeating them 36-14 last year, but Griffin isn’t relying on that stat to get them through.

“When we played them down there last time, in fairness to them, they were out of the competition,” he said.

“They didn’t have Cameron Smith either, so there were a few variables there.”

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