Storm v Sharks preview
Melbourne Storm v Cronulla Sharks
Every time this fixture rolls around those in purple rejoice while fans of The Shire cringe at what has become a nightmarish custom.
Round 2, 2008 is the last time Cronulla left AAMI Park with a win. Their past six visits have not been so kind.
Their most recent was one for the record books as the Storm put on six first-half tries on the way to a 48-6 scoreline in what was their biggest ever win over the Sharks.
Off-season changes to the visitors' personnel suggest history should not repeat but Melbourne will prove hard to beat in what will be their first game in front of the faithful for 2015.
It has been a Jekyll and Hyde start to the season for the Storm, with the former rearing its ugly head last week against Manly. Conceding three tries in nine minutes proved the difference in the two-point loss.
Back-to-back home defeats are not the ideal way to start a season but that is precisely the predicament Cronulla is in after a 10-2 loss to the Broncos. Despite having more possession, more completed sets and the second-highest total meters of any team in Round 2 (1949m) the Sharks lacked any firepower in a game that'll leave no fan racing for the replay anytime soon.
Storm lock Dale Finucane might want to consider buying a lottery ticket after successfully challenging his dangerous contact charge at the NRL judiciary, leaving him free to play yet again after also having a Round 1 report thrown out.
That means Melbourne will remain unchanged while for the Sharks Luke Lewis could be a more than welcome return. The Maroons and Kangaroos rep could return from off-season knee surgery after being named on an extended bench alongside front rower Matt Prior who makes way in the starting side for Sam Tagataese.
Watch Out Storm: After starting the season with a 1-1 record on the back of contrasting defensive performances, Saturday night builds as a vital one for the psyche of this Storm squad. Another lackluster performance could see the hint of doubt creep in as to whether the inconsistency they thought they had shaken over summer has returned to torment them for a second straight season.
Watch Out Sharks: Melbourne have posed a huge threat on the outside early in the season with dynamic duo Marika Koroibete and Young Tonumaipea running amok. They rank third and fourth respectively in the NRL for metres gained, combining for 813 metres on the back of 34 runs apiece. It will take some stopping by the visitors to keep either or both wingers off the try sheet.
Key Match-Up: Cameron Smith v Michael Ennis – This battle at hooker is likely to feature in just about every play the ball. Smith ranked second only to Ennis for receives in 2014 and both men again find themselves in the fop five after two rounds. The Sharks have leaned heavily on their prized recruit who has been handed the footy on 200 occasions. Both men are leaders, playmakers and have the fortunes of their respective sides literally in the palm of their hands.
The History: Played 27; Storm 18, Sharks 9. Melbourne have dominated Cronulla in recent times, coming out on top in eight of the last nine meetings.
What Are The Odds: Storm $1.27 Sharks $3.75 - According to Sportsbet, five times the money has been invested on Melbourne in comparison to Cronulla as far as head to head betting is concerned. Punters have also jumped on board the Storm at the line, conceding 10 points. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Gavin Badger. Assistant Referee: Chris Sutton. Touch Judges: Adam Reid and Clayton Sharpe. Video Referees: Steve Clarke and Luke Phillips.
Televised: Fox Sports – LIVE from 7.30pm AEDT
The Way We See It: Melbourne are tough to beat at home at the best of times let alone in their first clash at AAMI Park for the season, against a team that has not won an NRL game since Round 20 last year. The Sharks would want to start strongly or else it could be a long night for their travelling faithful. Storm by 12.
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