Eels v Storm
Rep Round may have been a week off for some, but not for the majority of these two sides. The Eels had eleven players representing for their country or region while the Storm had 16 players on show last weekend.
Melbourne (3th) and Parramatta (15th) enter Sunday's clash at opposite ends of the NRL ladder but such is the close nature of the Telstra Premiership just two wins separates them.
There are welcome inclusions for both sides with Billy Slater set to return after a month-long absence with a shoulder injury. It leaves Cameron Munster as the undeserving 18th man after several eye-catching performances in Slater's No.1 jersey.
Storm youngsters Felise Kaufusi (one week) and Nelson Asofa-Solomona (five weeks) were handed suspensions over Rep Round, paving the way for Dayne Weston and Tom Learoyd-Lahrs to earn a recall for the side's first trip to Pirtek Stadium since Round 20, 2012.
The Eels have finally been granted some injury relief with Semi Radradra to play his first game sine Round 2 after recovering from a knee injury. He will form a new-look wing combination with Ryan Morgan as the pair replaces Bureta Faraimo and John Folau.
As far as ladder position goes even Blind Freddy can pick the favourite in this one however Parramatta will fancy their chances of an upset.
Melbourne surrendered top spot in their last outing, with a defeat to bottom-placed Manly, and they can ill-afford another slip up against a side that on paper they should comfortably account for.
Watch out Eels: Woeful resistance – it isn't their only issue but the Parra defence has been a major concern in 2015. After eight rounds the Eels have the leakiest defence in the NRL, conceding an average of 24.5 points per game. Only on two occasions have they managed to keep their opposition under 20 points. Unfortunately it is an all too common theme for Parramatta, whose defence has ranked no higher than 15th in the previous three seasons. Against a team with as much firepower as Melbourne this is a glaring weakness that could prove costly.
Watch out Storm: Rep Round reshuffle - Storm officials would have cringed when the Trans-Tasman test was rescheduled as a result of torrid weather. The change has thrown a spanner in the works ahead of the club's preparations for Sunday with 16 rep players not rejoining their teammates until Thursday this week. Given six played extensive minutes in Sunday's Test and facing another road trip at the weekend, the men in purple are somewhat behind the eight ball. It is not disastrous, but certainly far from ideal.
Key Match-Up: Chris Sandow v Cooper Cronk – In his last Storm outing Cronk was outplayed by Daly Cherry-Evans. For the second time this season Cherry-Evans overshadowed his more-fancied Kangaroos and Queensland teammate in a man-of-the-match performance. However it is hard to keep champions down and Cronk will be desperate to make amends. Standing in his way is the enigmatic Sandow. It is perhaps too great an ask to expect Sandow to repeat the efforts of DCE but the Eels need their No.7 to at least hold his own and turn on that creative flair if the home side are to have any chance of an upset.
The History: Played 28; Eels 11, Storm 17. Melbourne have won four of the past five meetings by an average margin of 32 points however things have been less joyous for the Victorian side at Pirtek Stadium, winning just one of their previous five games there.
What Are The Odds: Eels $2.10 v Storm $1.67 - This is the game Sportsbet punters think is the toughest of the weekend to find a winner. Money is close to 50/50 in all of the key markets, but either side to win 1-12 is a popular bet. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referee - Gerard Sutton, Assistant Referee – Alan Shortall, Touch Judges – Brett Suttor, Nick Beashel, Video Referee – Bernard Sutton, Luke Patten.
Televised: Channel 9, Live, 4pm.
The Way We See It: The Big Three reunite once again and while the Storm have found it tough to beat the Eels on their home deck it is hard to go past their quality across the board. Storm by 6.