Sitting in third place on the Telstra Premiership ladder with an 8-4 record, the Melbourne Storm appear to be flying in the face of the pre-season critics who had them missing the finals. The Victorian side is yet to lose two games in a row in 2015 and have stamped their mark as title contenders once again.
The run home: It is a mixed run to the finish line for the Storm who play half of their remaining games against teams currently outside the top eight. A big bonus is the fact that they play three of their last five games at AAMI Park where they are historically tough to beat and have lost just once this season. They play the Cowboys and Broncos to finish their campaign, games that at this stage could be decisive for their top four prospects.
Game to remember: It was Melbourne’s one-point win over the Sydney Roosters in Round 7 that first made the competition sit up and take notice. In wet conditions, the two teams put on one of the games of the season and with Billy Slater out of the side, Cameron Munster got the chance to showcase his prodigious talent. The Storm moved into top spot on the ladder following the win and kick started talk of them as a serious premiership threat.
The one that got away: With three losses by two points or less there has been a bit of heartbreak for Melbourne fans this season, but the Round 4 capitulation in North Queensland would have stung the most. The Storm lead that game 16-4 with 20 minutes to play but surrendered the lead and ultimately returned home empty handed after a Johnathan Thurston field goal in golden point. Melbourne are not the first team to fall to the fast-finishing Cowboys this season and at least managed to rally following the defeat to win five of their next six games.
MVP: What a year 2015 has been for Will Chambers. He has worn green and gold, maroon, purple and has been in stellar form in all three jerseys. He has played all 12 games for the Storm, scoring seven tries to equal Marika Koroibete as the side’s leading try scorer. He also ranks third at the club for total metres and has now emerged as the leader of the Storm’s young brigade of outside backs of which the 26-year-old Chambers is the oldest.
Stats that matter: Melbourne has the equal best completion rate in the Telstra Premiership at 77% on the back of making the fewest errors in the competition with just 8.75 per game. However it is their defence that has been the real difference. The Storm resistance is ranked as the third best in the NRL, up from eighth last season. They have allowed just 13.5 points per game and allowed more than 20 points only twice in 2015.
Fantasy stud: It comes as no surprise that Cameron Smith is the blue chip investment averaging 60.1 points per game. He is the fourth best Fantasy player overall while Jesse Bromwich is the fifth best prop with an average of 50.6 points each week.
Injury report: Billy Slater was the main casualty, missing five of the first 12 games after injuring his shoulder in Round 5, but the emergence of Cameron Munster in his absence was a huge bonus. Jordan McLean also missed three games with a hamstring injury while the absence of Cooper Cronk for at least the next three games will raise significant questions as to whether Melbourne can cover his playmaking genius.
What they are saying: "This football team can compete with the best teams… we've improved from last year and just can't get lost in what we're about this year," Cooper Cronk said.
Predicted finish: Given Melbourne were two games clear inside the top four heading into the Origin period, something would have to go drastically wrong for this side not to be there at the business end. A 12th finals appearance in 13 seasons looks to be awaiting the men in purple who will consider the season a waste should they fail to win a final for the third straight year. A top four spot and even two home finals should be the expectation.