William Botoulas, Melbourne Correspondent, NRL.com
Storm v Sea Eagles
The rivalry continues… these two clubs that have enjoyed the type of sustained success that is the envy of the competition. However, for one side it is almost season-defining stakes on Saturday night.
Melbourne Storm enter Round 9 with a 4-4 record, their worst start to a season in a decade after just one win from their past five games. The home side will be without centre Justin O’Neill (ankle) for 10-12 weeks but Will Chambers will return from a two-week suspension as his able replacement. The Storm have also sprung a slight surprise in naming leading try-scorer Sisa Waqa, despite the Fijian injuring his ankle against the Warriors. Despite the club being coy about Waqa’s chances the No.2 is touch-and-go.
Perhaps the Representative Round has given Craig Bellamy’s men a chance to step away from what appears to be an uncharacteristic early season slump. In contrast, the Sea Eagles sit second on the ladder with a 6-2 record and equal on points with the top of the table Bulldogs. However, football is a cruel mistress and the injury gods appear to have made their way into Brookvale.
Despite playing just seven minutes for the Kangaroos, key playmaker Daly Cherry-Evans suffered a calf strain and is in serious doubt to make the trip to Melbourne despite being named on Tuesday. The Sea Eagles will already be without their other half in Kieran Foran (knee) and DCE’s absence would ruin a potentially mouthwatering Cherry-Evans v Cronk match-up in the halves. Anthony Watmough (elbow) has also been named.
Adding to Geoff Toovey’s injury woes is the fact skipper Jamie Lyon (knee) is expected to miss the next two games, while key lock forward Glenn Stewart (ankle) has been ruled out for the next five.
Lyon’s absence means Peta Hiku moves from wing to centre with David Williams recalled to the top grade and Brett Stewart assuming the captaincy role. Jamie Buhrer has been named to start at lock for Glenn Stewart with James Hasson joining the bench.
The absences of Lyon and Foran, and potential absence of Cherry-Evans, means Round 8 debutant playmaker Jack Littlejohn is suddenly key to his side's fortunes
. Regardless of whether Cherry-Evans makes the trip or not, the visitors will be depleted and the hosts will be looking to pounce.
It seems a long time since these sides played out a golden point thriller in Round 1, in which the Storm prevailed 23-22 at Brookvale Oval. We can only hope for the same drama and excitement this time around.
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Last season the Storm finished with the third-best defence in the competition but after eight rounds in 2014 hold the third-worst. The players say it is ‘un-Storm like’, however the ease with which opposition teams are piling on the points indicates this could be more than just a trend. This week it is even more of a concern, as the best attacking team in the competition comes to town that have been scoring an average of 23.5 points per game.
Opposing right-wingers have been a thorn in the Storm’s side throughout this 2014 campaign and it may again prove the case on Saturday night. Sea Eagles’ utility Peta Hiku is ranked No.1 for Manly in all run metres, averaging 135.5m per game. The Kiwi also scored four of his side’s nine tries in the Round 8 rout of the Raiders. He may indeed be forced to switch to the centres or even the halves if Cherry-Evans fails to be fit but regardless he will pose a significant threat for the embattled Storm defence.Watch Out Sea Eagles:
At times last Friday night’s Trans-Tasman Test looked to be a showcase of purple pride. Jesse Bromwich and Tohu Harris both crossed the line for two of the Kiwis’ three tries, while Cooper Cronk sealed the Kangaroos win with one of his own. Billy Slater also showed he is continuing to build back to his best ahead of Origin time after running for 132 metres and having a creative hand in three of Australia’s five tries. The Storm may collectively be out of form but perhaps key personnel are starting to regain theirs.
Melbourne is in unchartered waters after its sub-par start to the season and as a result Manly must inflict something on their rivals that has not happened for a decade. Not since 2004, Craig Bellamy’s second season in charge, have the Storm had a losing record after nine rounds of an NRL season. Records such as that stand for a reason - Melbourne are a proud club but wouldn’t Manly love nothing more than to squash that pride on Saturday night.
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Billy’s back – Billy Slater was at his creative best in the green and gold last week and has taken to answering questions surrounding his Maroon guernsey into his own hands. The immovable object Jesse Bromwich – Was referred to by his captain Cameron Smith as the in form front-rower of the competition and given he has averaged 149m per game, it is hard to argue.
No stopping Steve Matai – Manly’s leading try scorer for the season (9) and a big reason it boasts the best attack in the land. Tough Jorge Taufua – The winger has averaged 167m in his three games this season and is pushing his case for a Blues guernsey.Where It Will be Won:
The Storm must quell the Sea Eagles’ attacking threats out wide. Opposition teams have looked to attack the Storm on the outside for much of this season and the Sea Eagles will surely follow suit.
Hiku will be high on confidence after his four tries over the Raiders, while Taufua has been on fire since returning from injury. However, just how effective these wingers will be (potentially) without the masterminds in the middle remains to be seen. It will be an area to watch and a possible tipping point for this contest.The History:
Played 25; Melbourne 13, Manly 11. Two successful teams with a close history and their recent meetings are no different, with the Storm holding the slight edge winning five of the past 10, including one draw. The last meeting saw Melbourne win a golden point thriller 23-22 at Brookvale in Round 1 of this season.Match Officials:
Referees – Shayne Hayne & Adam Gee; Touch Judges – Adam Reid & Michael Wise; Video Referees – Ashley Klein & Ben Galea.Televised:
Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.The Way We See It:
The Storm may not be in great form but it is hard to pick the Sea Eagles given their raft of injuries. The hosts desperately need a bounce-back game and they may get it against their rivals. Storm by eight points.