After so many years seeing the Storm dominate the competition it is quite an adjustment to look at them as fallible, even at home. But apparently they are just that.
Another loss last round to the Wests Tigers, their third in six games this year, has them in the unusual position of seventh on the NRL ladder and ready to face a Warriors outfit who may be under them in eighth position, but who are one of very few sides to have the wood on the Storm in recent times.
The Warriors beat the Storm twice last year and while the Melbourne boys haven’t lost back-to-back games in over a year, and only once in three seasons, the visitors will travel to Olympic Park knowing they have been victorious on the ground in two of the past three games at the venue.
They also bring confidence from a barnstorming finish against the Roosters where they fought back from a dismal 16-0 start to win 17-16 in Golden Point.
The Storm have named the same side that fell 16-6 to the Wests Tigers on Monday night, with the addition of Matt Cross to a five-man bench. New recruit Brett Finch could yet come into calculations.
The Warriors have also kept the same side this week but have added Lewis Brown as an 18th man.
And talk about a real ANZAC Day clash!
Watch out Storm: The Warriors continue to be a second-phase football side, leading the NRL with 90 offloads so far this season. For years now the Storm have been a side that limits their offloads and concentrates on structured play – but the Warriors have troubled them by breaking through their disciplined tackling and promoting the ball to players who can then attack a retreating defence.
Joel Moon (13 offloads), Simon Mannering (10 offloads) and Jerome Ropati (nine offloads) are the sides most prolific offloaders but the fact is only Patrick Ah Van and Denan Kemp are without at least one to their name from the opening six rounds.
The Storm need to concentrate on wrapping up the ball – or be prepared to face the consequences.
Watch out Warriors: While the Melbourne attack hasn’t been on song so far this season their defence is still pretty solid. And good defence can be a form of attack when you have individual brilliance in your line-up.
The Melbourne defence is by far the most effective in the NRL, with 91.7 per cent of attempted tackles being classed effective. This volume allows the side to stay in the contest for longer and means the difference between winning and losing might just be a Greg Inglis or Billy Slater moment.
If the Warriors are looking for the weakest links in the Storm armour they need to spot the two wingers in Anthony Quinn and Steve Turner, even though they are among the better defenders on the flanks in the NRL.
As far as defenders closer to the middle are concerned, Inglis and Kevin Proctor might be worth getting to on occasion.
Where it will be won: Cooper Cronk v Stacey Jones. Obviously both sides have a roster full of talent but the individual halfback battle shapes as a crucial one.
Without a Jones-led revolution last weekend the Warriors would be entering the contest off a loss, while Cronk has been a little down on form compared to recent seasons. Both men have represented their country in the no.7 jersey (albeit Jones 46 times compared to Cronk’s one) and have the ability to control a game.
Jones now has six try assists, one try, one line-break assist and a line break along with 11 tackle breaks, six offloads and just four errors. Cronk on the other hand has just two try assists, two tries, two line-break assists and a line break plus nine tackle breaks, three offloads and 11 errors.
It’s no coincidence the Storm’s drop-off in attack has coincided with Cronk’s drop-off in form. He really needs to step it up to help his side get back on track.
The History: Played 22; Storm 11, Warriors 10, drawn 1. The Warriors defeated the Storm twice last season, including an 18-15 win at Olympic Park. They have in fact beaten the Storm at the venue two of the past three outings – although the home side has a 5-4 advantage overall.
Conclusion: It is still hard to advocate tipping against Melbourne in Melbourne, despite the fact they only won their first game in Golden Point, lost their second and barely won their third game at Olympic Park so far in ’09.
It will all depend on which Warriors team turns up for the contest.
If last weekend’s first-half side turns up, Melbourne will punish them much more severely than the Roosters managed to, but if the second-half side fronts up, then an upset is well and truly on the cards.
This is another one of those games to agonise over… do you stay ‘safe’ and tip Melbourne or do you look to make that move up the tipping ladder knowing most people will tip Melbourne by habit and a Warriors win would be almost like scoring double points. The downside of that way of thinking is if the Storm do prevail, you’ll be playing catch-up.
Match officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Matt Cecchin; Sideline Officials – Adam Devcich & Paul Holland; Video Ref – Tim Mander.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.