Pride – that’s what goes on the line at AAMI Park. Both the Storm and the Knights play their final game of the season and perhaps it can’t come soon enough.
For the Knights, their fate was only sealed last weekend when the Dragons snuffed out their slim hopes, but for the Storm, it’s been 20 rounds of torture as they have played for no competition points.
After a $1 ticket offer the match is sold out – and as such, it shapes as an ambush for the Knights.
Melbourne are thanking their loyal fans and also farewelling some of their players. Greg Inglis, Ryan Hoffman, Brett White, Aiden Tolman, Jeff Lima and Brett Finch will all play their last game for the purple brigade, making this an emotion-charged afternoon.
Inglis and Manu were late withdrawals last weekend in the loss to the Wests Tigers but they’ll return to the centres with Willie Isa and Gareth Widdop making way.
Brett Finch also missed last weekend but he’ll return for Luke Kelly, while Tolman returns at the expense of young Jesse Bromwich.
Newcastle are basically on a hiding to nothing. A win could see them finish as high as ninth while a loss might drop them as low as 12th… some would argue it’s all the same if you’re not in the finals… as long as you’re not last. That spot is obviously taken by Melbourne.
Jarrod Mullen will play his 100th NRL match as captain after Kurt Gidley was ruled out.
Other changes see Shannon McDonnell out and Wes Naiqama named at fullback, while Scott Dureau will take the halfback role. Dan Tolar and Joel Edwards have been named as new faces on a bench of five.
Watch out Storm: The Knights will probably try to feed their right-side attack as often as possible to help Adam MacDougall add to his club record of tries and to get Akuila Uate over the line as the competition’s leading try scorer.
Uate has 21 tries for the year and is just one ahead of Israel Folau, two ahead of Brett Morris and three ahead of Manu Vatuvei and Shaun Kenny-Dowall. While he will know if all but Morris have pulled level or ahead of him by game time, he will be well aware the Dragons flier scored a hat-trick in the final round last season to take the title.
The Knights have scored 40 tries on the right side of the field this season while Melbourne have conceded 32 tries on this side of the field compared to 24 on the other.
Watch out Knights: The Storm is ready to put on a points fest. With $3000 going to charity if they win plus $1500 for every try they score, $1000 for every goal they pot and $500 for every field goal they boot going to charity also, the side is ready to entertain a packed house.
Add to this the fact Billy Slater needs just one try to equal Matt Geyer’s record of 113 tries for Melbourne (where is the queue to get cash on him not only tying but beating it here?) and you have massive danger signs for the Knights.
Young winger Justin O’Neill has already scored six tries in five games at AAMI Park so keep an eye on him, while Kevin Proctor, Tolman and White all need a try to get off the dreaded ‘nudie run’, so you can expect to see them clamouring for the ball close to the line.
Those of you in Dream Team finals; be aware Cameron Smith might not take every shot at goal. Chances are White, Hoffman and co. might get offered the odd shot!
Where it will be won: Well, we already know both teams are going to throw the ball around so the game will be won and lost on errors, or the ability of making the speculator passes stick.
The Knights’ most attacking-minded and gifted player in Gidley missing and the Storm side are full of names like Inglis, Cooper Cronk, Smith and Slater. The combinations between this quartet have proven to be spectacular before; as such that could be the key to the win.
Believe it or not, over the first 25 rounds of this competition, the two sides have amassed the exact same amount of errors (300). This works out to just over 13 a game. If one can dominate possession over the other and make fewer mistakes, then perhaps the attacking gods will be on their side.
The history: Played 24; Storm 12, Knights 12. Melbourne took down the Knights earlier this year, before the salary cap scandal hit. This pushed the Storm’s record over the Knights to six wins from the past eight.
The sides are yet to play at AAMI Park… but the Knights haven’t won in Melbourne since Round 2, 2004.
Conclusion: Unfortunately for Knights fans this smells like a Melbourne Storm carve up. As soon as the curtain was drawn on the Knights’ season last week the chances of them winning this game became almost non-existent.
Of course, they do have the talent to win, but with a full house of Melbourne fans and the emotion of the afternoon it would take a Herculean effort. You’ll probably get huge odds for a Newcastle win… but it still won’t be worth the risk of your hard-earned!
Match officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Gavin Morris; Sideline Officials – Daniel Eastwood & Grant Atkins; Video Ref – Phil Cooley.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm.