Storm v Broncos preview
Melbourne Storm v Brisbane Broncos
Sunday 21 June, 4pm
One of the Telstra Premiership's fiercest rivalries enters yet another chapter in its short but tumultuous history as the Storm and Broncos prepare for post-Origin battle at AAMI Park.
Broncos' fans still prize the club's 2006 grand final success over the Storm, but since then their side has only beaten the Melbournians twice in eight seasons.
Brisbane have copped some hidings during that time as well, including a 40-0 drubbing in the 2007 qualifying final, a 48-4 trouncing in Round 13, 2009 and 40-10 preliminary final loss later that season.
Throw in the 79th-minute try to Greg Inglis that resulted in a heartbreaking 16-14 loss during the 2008 finals – Wayne Bennett's last game as coach during his first stint at the club – and you have a number of examples why everyone associated with Broncos desperately wants to get one over their Victorian adversaries.
Despite an appalling record when playing in Melbourne (three wins from 17 attempts) the ladder-leading Broncos, fresh off last weekend's bye, have never had a better opportunity to snap their current eight-match losing streak against the fourth-placed Storm, who are looking to bounce back after their four-point loss to the Eels.
The Storm have been hit with the news they'll be without Billy Slater for the remainder of the season due to shoulder surgery, while Origin stars Cameron Smith and Will Chambers are set to return to the side.
Bennett has named his six Origin players, although history indicates that skipper Justin Hodges is unlikely to back up, with Jordan Kahu likely to shift to right centre with Lachlan Maranta coming into the side on the wing.
Watch out Storm: If Jack Reed were eligible for the Maroons he'd be pushing for an Origin call-up based on his form over the past two months.
The Yorkshire-born centre moved to Australia at a young age and played his junior footy with Bribie Island, but declared his allegiance to the mother country prior to the 2011 Four Nations.
The 26-year-old has been in scintillating form since Round 8, tearing up Brisbane's left edge with a series of powerful runs and perfectly timed passes.
Reed's figures have increased dramatically during this period with his average running metres jumping from 92 to 107 metres, as well as making improvements in tries scored (five tries in six games), line breaks (seven), line-break assists (five), try assists (five) and tackle busts (11 from six games).
Watch out Broncos: Storm five-eighth Blake Green was largely unknown to the rugby league fraternity prior to joining the club from Super League on a two-year deal at the start of the season.
The 28-year-old had been plying his trade for Hull Kingston Rovers and Wigan over four seasons, helping the Warriors win the 2013 Super League and Challenge Cup double.
The Storm struggled to fill Gareth Widdop's boots last season after he left for the Dragons and as a result they signed Green up for his second stint in the NRL after playing 43 games for the Eels, Sharks and Bulldogs between 2007 and 2010.
The return to Australia has given the former Westfields Sports High School student a new lease on life and it's showing out on the playing field.
Green has five tries, five line-break assists, five line breaks and four try assists from 13 games so far this season.
Key Match-Up: Ben Hampton v Ben Hunt. Blake Green and Anthony Milford will play their roles, but the battle of the Bens shapes as a key match-up during this top-four showdown.
Cooper Cronk's knee injury means the Broncos hold the edge in the halves with the Storm losing 264 games of NRL experience without their halfback on deck.
Hampton, who has played 14 games for the Storm over three seasons, has been in top form while playing for feeder team Sunshine Coast Falcons in Queensland's Intrust Super Cup.
However, Sunday's battle at AAMI Park will be another stern test for the 23-year-old, who scored a try and made one line break during last weekend's loss to Parramatta.
The History: Played 36; Storm 24, Broncos 11, Draw 1. Saying the Storm are Brisbane's bogey team is an understatement – the Broncos have only beaten the Storm twice since the 2006 grand final – a record stretching 17 games and eight seasons. The Storm have won eight in a row against their opposition and last tasted defeat against them in 2010 at AAMI Park. Prior to that clash the Broncos hadn't won in Melbourne since 2003.
Did You Know: Broncos assistant coach Stephen Kearney played 139 games for the Storm between 1999 and 2004. The former Wests and Auckland back-rower played his penultimate NRL match against Brisbane in a 31-14 qualifying final win at Suncorp Stadium in 2004.
Corey Parker is the only current Bronco to have played in that game which featured Brisbane legends such as Darren Lockyer, Shane Webcke, Tonie Carroll, Petero Civoniceva and Gorden Tallis. Billy Slater and Cameron Smith also played in that match with Cooper Cronk on the bench.
What Are The Odds: Storm $2.00 v Broncos $1.80. Sportsbet reports strong backing for the Broncos in this clash – there has been three times the money invested on Wayne Bennett's men and Brisbane by 13+ is the most popular winning margin. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Lead Referee: Gerard Sutton; Assistant Referee: Henry Perenara; Touch Judges: Rick MacFarlane and Brett Suttor; Video Referees; Jared Maxwell and Ben Galea.
Televised: Channel Nine – 4pm (Live – QLD & NSW), GEM (Live – Victoria). Coverage starts from 3.30pm.
The Way We See It: As mentioned previously, the Broncos have never had a better opportunity to snap their current losing streak against the Storm, who are missing Cronk and Slater. It remains to be seen which Origin players will back up across both sides, but Brisbane look stronger on paper and have been the NRL's most consistent side so far this season. Broncos by four points.