Storm v Sea Eagles preview
Melbourne Storm v Manly Sea Eagles
These two archrivals meet for the second time this season but do so under very different circumstances.
The Storm sit unassumingly atop the NRL ladder while Manly are way down in 16th after enduring an horrendous opening two months of the campaign.
The Sea Eagles' one and only win this season came against the Storm back in Round 2 but they will need to pull the proverbial rabbit out of a hat to leave AAMI Park with the chocolates on Saturday night.
Melbourne will be out to achieve four straight wins, something they have not done since Round 24, 2013.
The home side will be sky-high on confidence after a Cooper Cronk field goal with seconds left handed them a hard-fought win over the Roosters last week.
Manly fought bravely to stay in the game until half-time against the Bulldogs before their resistance eventually gave way to four second-half tries in the 28-16 defeat.
A loss at AAMI Park would make it six in a row for the Silvertails, equaling their worst losing streak since 2004, a season which they also started with a 1-6 record.
You can now add the Manly skipper to the longest injury list in the NRL with Jamie Lyon likely to miss with a high ankle sprain. The visitors will get at least some reprieve with Kieran Foran returning to the halves while Melbourne remains unchanged but with Cooper Cronk in doubt and Billy Slater training during the week there may be some significant late changes coming out of the purple camp.
Watch Out Storm: When you're in first place and in red-hot form there is one thing that becomes your biggest threat: injuries. Cooper Cronk has not trained with the main group all week as he battles what the club has said is the flu. Add to this the fact he boarded a flight out of town on Wednesday and it leaves his likelihood of playing in serious doubt. His preferred replacement in Ben Hampton is battling hamstring sourness, leaving the door ajar for Shaun Nona to make his NRL debut in a baptism of fire against Daly Cherry-Evans.
Watch Out Sea Eagles: Manly have the equal worst defensive record in the NRL, having conceded 20 or more points in five of their seven games. It is a stark contrast to last season which saw the Sea Eagles concede the third-fewest point in the competition. That shaky resistance will be under huge pressure this weekend against the third-best attack in the competition. Melbourne have the best points differential in the competition, meaning Manly must rediscover their stinginess of 12 months ago even if the personnel are somewhat different.
Key Match-Up: The halves. Daly Cherry-Evans, the inclusion of Kieran Foran and doubts over the fitness of Cooper Cronk means the battle of the halves is the only area Manly could hold a match-winning advantage. DCE put on a clinic back in Round 2 against the Storm with two try assists and two line breaks, overshadowing Cronk for much of the 80 minutes. Blake Green has been a solid partner for the Queensland No.7 so far this season but it remains to be seen whether he can step up to be the main man if that moment arrives.
The History: Played 28; Storm 15, Sea Eagles 12, Drawn 1. All signs point to a nailbiter with the past three games having been decided by three points or less and just two of the last seven have ended with double-digit margins. Manly have made a habit of starting well against the Storm, leading at half-time on the past five occasions.
What Are The Odds: Storm $1.25 v Sea Eagles $4.00. After Sportsbet opened Manly at long odds, punters were happy to back them in the hope of a return to form. As far as head-to-head is concerned the money is slightly in Manly's favour, but in margin betting the Storm have been well backed to win 13+. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Matt Cecchin. Assistant Referee: Henry Perenara. Touch Judges: Brett Suttor, Adam Reid. Video Referees: Shayne Hayne, Luke Phillips.
Televised: Fox Sports – LIVE from 6.15pm AEDT
The Way We See It: It would be great to be able to make this prediction an hour before kick-off once we know the makeup of the Storm side but our boss doesn't give us the luxury. However Melbourne have shown a premiership credential we have not seen for some time while Manly are a rolling soap opera. Storm by 4 points.