Grand Final replay time… but in this case there is even more venom on the way thanks to the revelations the Storm were over the salary cap when they denied the Eels their first premiership since 1986 last year.
Forget the fact the Melbourne side cannot secure any competition points here… they will be out to keep the Eels in their place. Meanwhile this is the Eels’ shot at mini-redemption.
Of course, nothing can take back the events of last season’s decider, but a win here would be extremely satisfying for not just the players, but also the legion of blue-and-gold fans.
But even without all of the sidenotes and emotion, the fact is the Eels need a victory after two sad losses.
After falling to the Sharks the Eels’ fans were expecting more against the Dragons… but a 30-0 score line against has them out of the top eight on percentages and fighting to stay in amongst the contenders.
Another loss could actually have them drop as low as 12th on the ladder and while they have proven it is possible to make a late run… who needs that kind of pressure again?
On the other hand, a win could push them back up into the top eight, so the enormity of the contest won’t be lost on the home side.
Nathan Hindmarsh returns to the sid,e with Justin Horo reverting to the bench and Brendan Oake missing out. Joel Reddy and Eric Grothe return to the backline, with Jonathan Wright out and Krisnan Inu joining an extended bench.
Expect the biggest “boo” the Storm players have ever heard when they run onto Parramatta Stadium, but with their champion players back after a rest last round it will take more than a bunch of rabid supporters to knock them off.
The side has won eight games this season, the second most in the competition, but is of course running last.
With the news last week that all of the points they score will send money to charity, the Melbourne boys are in a pointscoring kind of mood, which could be trouble for the Eels.
How’s this for a list of returning players, coming into a side that whipped Canterbury last week: Billy Slater, Greg Inglis, Cameron Smith and Brett White rejoin the team, with Gareth Widdop, Chase Stanley, Rory Kostjasyn and Ryan Tandy out.
Ryan Hinchcliffe and Sika Manu move from the starting side to the bench.
Cooper Cronk plays his 150th first grade game.
Watch out Eels: The Storm are breaking the line much more often than the Eels and with the pace and skill in the Melbourne line-up, this can’t be allowed to continue if the Eels are to win.
The Storm have 55 line-breaks this season, or five a match, while the Eels with just 35 are equal second last with Cronulla.
Only three sides haven’t managed to post 200 points or more in attack this season – and one of those is the Eels. The Raiders have an excuse, having played one less game but the Sharks and Eels are just plain boring in attack and can’t get across the line.
The Eels are scoring just 15 points a game and if not for a fourth-ranked defence they would be in all sorts of trouble. The Storm’s number one line-breaker, Anthony Quinn, is out injured however Slater (eight), Dane Nielson (five) and Mitch Duffie (five) are also proving elusive this season. In the side named, only Todd Lowrie, Sika Manu, Aiden Tolman and Brett White are yet to break the line this year.
Watch out Storm: While Melbourne are certainly throwing the ball around a bit more these days, they are coming up against the offload kings this weekend. The Eels are by far and away the most prolific offloading side, with 179 so far this year – which equates to more than 16 a match. Just as importantly they are one of the best sides at shutting down offloads from opposition players.
The Storm haven’t been known for second-phase play in the past, although with less to play for they are finding skills from hidden places. The Eels are at their best when keeping the ball alive and supporting each other, and with points being hard to find recently perhaps it’s time to return to ‘hot potato’ footy.
The key offloaders are Feleti Mateo (26), Nathan Hindmarsh (20) and Nathan Cayless (19) although every Eels player has proven the ability to create second phase.
Where it will be won: Aggression. The key to beating a Storm side that is out having a bit of fun is aggression – and the Eels need a big dose of it anyway if they’re to get their season back on track.
Whether it’s aggressive defence that has the opposition looking out of the corner of their eye, or aggressive attack which keeps the defenders on their toes, it will be the team prepared to go up a notch or two who will emerge victorious.
The motivation is here in this game for both teams so we can’t really expect a ‘soft’ Storm effort – although if the Eels get stuck in, there is always a chance the Storm won’t want to get really physical.
The first 10 minutes will be crucial. Expect to see both sides really pushing up hard in defence and really running with purpose. You will get a sense of the winner in these moments. The Storm have signalled their intent to be aggressive in attack so the Eels need to match it or perish. If they also add aggressive defence they can get the two competition points… which will go to waste otherwise.
The history: Played 22; Eels 9, Storm 13. We all know what happened the last time these two sides met… the Storm ‘won’ the premiership 23-16 before being stripped of it later. It means the Storm have won five of the past seven matches between the clubs although the Eels have two of the past three.
At Parramatta Stadium the ledger reads five wins each. In the past six games between the clubs the winning team has scored no more than 26 points.
Conclusion: The Storm will get up for this, if for no other reason than to let the Eels stew on another loss.
As such, the quality players in their side give them the edge but despite recent poor form this games shapes as a good one for the Eels. They need a kick in the bum after a good dose of reality this past fortnight and perhaps the pain of last year will inspire them.
Their fans will be out in force; when full of Eels fans, Parramatta Stadium can really lift the home side… so the stage is set for an upset and a small dose of redemption.
Match officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Gavin Morris; Video Ref – Steve Clark.
Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 9.30pm.