Melbourne will run onto Olympic Park looking somewhat different to usual, thanks to Origin absences, but they’ll still have extremely high hopes of continuing their impressive push back up the NRL ladder when the Tigers come to town.
The Storm have moved into the top four after last weekend’s win over South Sydney and are just a single point outside top spot, bringing them back into contention for what would be a remarkable and ultra impressive fourth straight minor premiership.
To stay on the path to history they need to win games like this one, against a desperate Wests Tigers side that returned to the winner’s circle with victory over Parramatta, but who still sit down in 12th spot.
The Storm cannot call on the services of Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Greg Inglis or Dallas Johnson and their coach is also away. But with New Zealand national coach Steven Kearney left in charge, they won’t lose too much in the way of leadership.
Steve Turner moves from wing to fullback to cover for Slater, with former New South Wales winger Anthony Quinn rejoining the side on the flank.
Dane Nielsen takes the place of Inglis in the centres while Ryan Hinchcliffe will start at hooker for Smith and Aiden Tolman lines up at lock for Johnson.
Sika Manu also returns to the side which pushes Matt Cross to the bench, a list of reserves that currently has six members thanks to the addition of James Maloney, Scott Anderson and Ryan Tandy.
The Tigers finally had some luck against the Eels last week but most of the positive play was provided by captain Robbie Farah who will miss this match either through Origin duty or through a rib injury.
His loss forces a reshuffle with John Morris moving from five-eighth to hooker, Blake Ayshford moving from centre to five-eighth, Rhys Hanbury moving from fullback to centre and Tim Moltzen returning to the side at fullback.
Watch out Storm: With Farah out the Tigers will rely heavily on their other attacking weapons like Benji Marshall – but particularly the freight train that is winger Taniela Tuiaki.
The big Tongan averages 119 metres a match and has busted the line a mammoth 14 times for 11 tries. He has added 69 tackle breaks and is quite simply impossible to stop if given space close to the try line.
The Storm defenders need to cut him off before he gets going or face the consequences – like just about every other team has so far this year.
Watch out Wests Tigers: The Storm attacking machine certainly loses some impetus without Slater, Inglis and Smith but they are a very clinical side and when they do break into the clear they are usually quite good at converting chances into points.
The Storm have one of the competition’s best line-break-to-try ratios, having scored 29 times from their 66 line breaks for a 44 per cent success rate. Tim Sheen’s men aren’t nearly as clinical with just 17 tries from 60 breaks equating to just 28 per cent.
If the Tigers are going to allow the Storm through their defensive line they need to scramble better or expect the scoreboard to tick over against them. They also need to be better in support play to ensure their own chances aren’t consistently wasted.
Where it will be won: Defence will win the day, just like it did back in Round 6 when the Wests Tigers actually muscled up for one of the rare times this season to win 16-6.
They managed to limit the Eels last Monday night but their season average is still a poor 23 points per game conceded – not great when compared to the Storm’s 14-points-per-game average.
The Tigers have obviously missed more tackles than the Storm this season (398-314) and have more ineffective tackles also (234-175) and they simply cannot afford this to continue.
As pointed out recently by nrl.com, the Tigers’ entire squad (other than last week’s newcomer Alan Schirnack) are ineffective in defence over 10 per cent of the time. If they can’t improve on that, the finals will be out of reach once again.
The History: Played 17; Storm 11, Wests Tigers 6. The Storm have won five of the past eight clashes but the Tigers have prevailed in two of the past three, including a 16-6 win at Leichhardt earlier this year.
At Olympic Park, Melbourne have a 100 per cent record over the Wests Tigers, winning all seven of their matches at the venue. The past two games at the venue were close though, with the Storm winning by just two points, 18-16.
Conclusion: The Wests Tigers were good in returning to the winner’s circle against the Eels and they do meet a weakened Storm but their form just hasn’t been consistent enough to warrant any real confidence.
The Melbourne side is always good depth-wise, as Craig Bellamy ensures all fringe players know and train with the same system as the main squad. Also, they still have a dominant halves pairing and some ex- and current representative stars scattered throughout. Storm to do the business here.
Match officials: Referees – Steve Lyons & Ashley Klein; Sideline Officials – David Abood & Mohamad Fajajo; Video Ref – Steve Clark.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.