Storm pack faces physical test
The Monday night semi-final rematch between the Storm and Knights is shaping as battle of the forward packs, according to Storm utility Ryan Hinchcliffe.
Newcastle makes the trip south winless and without its playmakers in Jarrod Mullen and Darrius Boyd (hamstrings) – making the Novocastrians even more reliant on their experienced forward rotation.
Willie Mason, Kade Snowden, Beau Scott and Jeremy Smith will carry much of the workload at AAMI Park as coach Wayne Bennett looks for the quartet to lead the way with their combined 719 games of NRL experience.
However they will face a stern test against a Melbourne forward pack that has impressed in the opening two rounds, led by Jesse Bromwich who has averaged 131 metres and 23 tackles a game this season.
Given the experience of the visitors, Hinchcliffe understands Monday night's result may be decided in his area of the park.
"Backs won't like to admit it but most games are won between the forward packs," said Hinchcliffe.
"They've a really strong, experienced forward pack but we feel like we are up to the challenge.
"Our forwards have been going along quite well."
Melbourne and Newcastle ranked first and third respectively for metres gained per game last season, largely due to the impact of their big men.
This season the Storm forwards appear to have picked up from where they left off, notching 1286 hit-up metres in the opening fortnight (ranked second).
The stats don't read quite so well for their Newcastle counterparts who rank 13th in this area so far this season.
Mason and co. have been starved of opportunity in the opening rounds, with their side surrendering the second-most possession of any team this year.
Should they do the same against the likes of Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith, the Knights may be staring down the barrel of an 0-3 start to 2014.
However Bennett's men will look to turn it around in the same venue it upset the Storm in last year's semi-final.
Hinchcliffe would not buy into the 'revenge' aspect of the rematch though the 29-year-old admits the winless visitors would make the trip south with little fear.
"They're a good side who have probably been a bit unlucky," said Hinchcliffe.
"There is no doubt they will come down here with plenty of confidence, especially after what happened last year."
The Storm play the Knights on Monday night at 7.30pm at AAMI Park.