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They won’t be there come the end of the regular season but the Melbourne Storm will still have a big say in this year’s finals series after all but destroying North Queensland’s flickering finals hopes with a devastating performance at AAMI Park on Saturday night.<br><br>It wasn’t just the result – which most people expected anyway – but the nature of their 58-12 demolition job that will have at least half a dozen finals aspirants glancing over their shoulder as the countdown to the finals approaches.<br><br>Questions were raised over the Storm’s ability to stay motivated this season after they were stripped of all competition points for 2010 in the wake of their salary cap scandal, but despite a few hiccups they have shown no signs of fading.<br><br>And their opponents this week, South Sydney, could be one of the hardest hit with not one but two games against last year’s grand final winners (we can no longer call them premiers) to come.<br><br>“It makes it a very tough run home for us,” said South Sydney coach John Lang, whose side is now right in the thick of a mid-table traffic jam following consecutive losses to Brisbane and Manly.<br><br>“We play the Dragons twice and of course Melbourne twice. But that’s just the sort of thing you’ve got to deal with and there are other sides in a similar boat.<br><br>“They (Melbourne) are sure to have a say.”<br><br>A quick glance through Melbourne’s remaining 10 games shows half a dozen top-eight contenders in the firing line, with the Rabbitohs copping the brunt of it with fixtures this Saturday and again, crucially, in Round 23.<br><br>The Storm also face Penrith and Canberra at AAMI Park and the Warriors, Manly and Wests Tigers away from home.<br><br>On current form, even the bye should be nervous.<br><br>The Gold Coast, St George Illawarra, Sydney Roosters and Parramatta – who were the last side to beat a full-strength Melbourne three weeks ago – won’t admit it but are no doubt quietly pleased that they’ve already seen the back of Melbourne in 2010.<br><br>Adding to the difficulties facing those still to play the Storm is the fact that Melbourne have traditionally finished the season far stronger than they’ve started.<br><br>Last year, for example, they won just three of their first six games but stormed home with five in a row to win the grand final.<br><br>This year it could be argued that they’re even more dangerous simply because they have nothing to lose – an attitude bolstered by an extra $700,000 worth of playing talent over every other team.<br><br>“I think it’s going to be the biggest test yet for our defence,” South Sydney lock Ben Lowe said.<br><br>“It would be a tough thing to do you’d think, when you’ve got nothing to play for and have to step up each week but they’re obviously doing it very well.<br><br>“That ad-lib style of footy seems to work for them.”<br><br>Lowe said it was important that the Rabbitohs showed they were serious about reaching the finals.<br><br>“It’s a huge test to see where we’re at,” he said. “The thing is that if they win, nobody gets the two points so I think it’s important that we go out there and get them instead.”<br><br>Former Melbourne skipper Robbie Kearns said that opposition sides would be remiss to expect the Storm to lie down and surrender as the season counts down.<br><br>“The guys have been going out there and giving their all and I have no doubt that will continue for the remainder of the year,” Kearns said. “If opposition teams are thinking they might get them on an off day, well it doesn’t matter who Melbourne come up against, they’re going to head out to win.<br><br>“Judging by the performance on Saturday night, if they play like that I can’t see them being beaten again.<br><br>“It will be interesting looking at the draw for the second half of the season.”<br><br><b>MELBOURNE’S RUN HOME</b><br>Rd 16 – South Sydney<br>Rd 17 – Bye<br>Rd 18 – Canterbury<br>Rd 19 – Warriors<br>Rd 20 – Penrith<br>Rd 21 – Canberra<br>Rd 22 – Manly<br>Rd 23 – South Sydney<br>Rd 24 – Cronulla<br>Rd 25 – Wests Tigers<br>Rd 26 – Newcastle
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