Storm v Sharks
AAMI Park
Saturday 7.30pm

We can hear the ho-hums from those negative-minded people who see this game as inconsequential. But while neither side will be involved in the finals, this game still throws up some interesting sidenotes.

There is Billy Slater’s quest for the Storm tryscoring record. There is the winding down of the Melbourne careers of Greg Inglis (at least for a while), Brett Finch, Brett White, Ryan Hoffman and Jeff Lima. There is the continual building of new Sharks coach Shane Flanagan’s style into the Sharks… and perhaps the biggest interest point – there is the debut of former NRL star Luke Phillips as the referee.

Phillips, a grand final player in 2000 and 2002 with the Roosters, has come through the referees cadet program and will take centre stage with Ashley Klein in this match.

Are former players good choices as match officials? Guess we’re about to find out, as he referees players he once played with and against.

The Storm comes into this match after beating Souths with a few changes. Justin O’Neill comes back onto the wing for Chase Stanley, Bryan Norrie starts at prop with Aiden Tolman out, Sika Manu starts in the back row with Kevin Proctor moving to the bench, while Adam Blair returns at lock which shifts Ryan Hinchcliffe to the reserves also. Jeff Lima has been added to the squad.

The Sharks pulled off a great upset last week against the Roosters, the second time they’ve beaten the tri-colours this season and just their sixth win all year.

This put them above the Cowboys in the unofficial wooden spoon race (the Storm are certain to be last with zero points despite wins), a small goal the playing group is aiming for.

The only change for this trip south is cosmetic, with Grant Millington set to start in the back row and Taulima Tautai reverting to the bench.

Watch out Storm: Sharks fullback Nathan Gardner gets better each week. In his rookie season and with just 13 games to his name he gets to take on one of the best in Billy Slater.

Gardner averages 144 metres a match, has 10 line-breaks (by far the most in his side) and five line-break assists, five try assists and six tries. Gardner isn’t afraid to attack from kick returns and is a great support player so the Storm need to create a plan to minimise his influence.

Watch out Sharks: Billy Slater is primed to break the Melbourne Storm club record for tries scored, as he is now just one try behind club legend Matt Geyer. With 112 tries for the club Slater can equal or surpass Geyer’s tally of 113 and he is determined to do so.

Geyer managed his 113 tries from 262 games but Slater’s appearance on Saturday night will be just his 177th for the Storm. This makes his current strike rate a try every 1.5 games, a pretty impressive effort. With the news Greg Inglis is moving to Brisbane (he has 76 tries in 115 games) this is a record Slater should get, and keep, for some time. Always a man of occasion it might be worth banking on a Slater scoring spree… what odds a hat-trick?

Where it will be won:
Class. Both teams have minimal motivation at this point other than to win and enjoy themselves doing it, which means we should get a bit of flair from both squads.

Sadly for the Sharks, in a battle of attacking prowess the Storm have the edge with their dynamite quartet of Slater, Inglis, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith. But don’t completely write off the Sharkies.
 
Trent Barrett still has some tricks up his old sleeves and Tim Smith can be a world-beater on any particular one-off night. Gardner’s prowess has been mentioned above and Paul Gallen might not be elusive but he does love bashing blokes… legally of course.

Whichever side has the least errors as they go about entertaining a very loyal crowd will get the job done.

The history: Played 21; Storm 13, Sharks 8. The Storm have won five of the past six against the Sharks including a 14-10 win earlier this season before the salary cap scandal broke.

The teams have yet to meet at AAMI Park but the Sharks did win two of the past four against the Storm at Olympic Park in the bleak city.
 
Conclusion: Last week we suggested the Roosters might break some records beating the Sharks and while this prediction was way off we are going to go again and say the Storm could blow the Sharks away here. The side is looking to ‘party’ during their final few home games and with Slater’s eye on the record and the break-up of the team imminent, one gets the feeling they might just turn the corner out of the mini-funk they are in attitude-wise.

We won’t write off the Sharks completely – they showed great heart last weekend – but they haven’t put two good performances together since 2008.

Match officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Luke Phillips; Sideline Officials – Ricky McFarlane & Adam Reid; Video Ref – Chris Ward.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.