Bulldogs v Storm preview
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Melbourne Storm
Belmore Sports Ground
If you want a measure of Melbourne's success over the years you only need to look at the fact that they hold a winning record over almost every team in the NRL. Everyone except for the Bulldogs.
The Canterbury-Bankstown side has been a significant Achilles heel for Craig Bellamy's men over the years and have won the past four meetings between these two teams, three of them by double-digit margins.
They are untimely opposition for a Storm side looking to overturn a run of two losses in a row that has seen them slip outside the top four and just one win above the eighth-placed Bulldogs.
Last week the Bulldogs made it three wins from four with a win over the Panthers and will look a vastly better side on Monday night with Origin stars Brett Morris and Trent Hodkinson returning to the fold.
Melbourne remain unchanged for now following their 14-12 defeat to the Broncos, but all eyes will be on whether Cooper Cronk, who returns to training this week, can convince the club's medicos and coaches that he has overcome his knee injury.
Watch out Bulldogs: It is stating the obvious that Canterbury-Bankstown have greatly missed James Graham for much of this season but against the Storm his absence could prove even more costly. The Bulldogs skipper has earned man of the match honours in his past two games against the Storm and was dominant in last year's semi-final win with 143 metres and 34 tackles. With Graham missing on Monday night it will allow greater freedom for opposing prop Jesse Bromwich to take control of the game. Graham is not expected to return from his hamstring injury until Round 18, yet Craig Bellamy hinted during the week he would not be surprised if Des Hasler pulls a fast one, given the Englishman has already spent three weeks recovering.
Watch out Storm: The Bulldogs handy record over Melbourne has turned into somewhat of a dominance in recent times. The Storm have suffered defeat the past four times these teams have met and by an average losing margin of 23 points. Should Cooper Cronk fail to make his return it is hard to see the visitors breaking their drought with their star playmaker and also fullback Billy Slater watching from the sidelines.
Key Match-Up: The Storm have simply just had no answer for the Bulldogs' size in recent years with Canterbury-Bankstown monstering the Storm up the middle. No James Graham will certainly help the Melbourne cause, allowing Jesse Bromwich to get off the leash, but the visitors will also be without their own No.10 Jordan McLean who remains sidelined indefinitely with hamstring issues of his own. The battle of the forwards is an important match-up in any game but on Monday night it will prove to be the deciding one.
The History: Played 35; Bulldogs 19, Storm 16. This has been a well-travelled fixture in recent years that has gone to places such as Perth, Gosford, Adelaide and even Mackay in Queensland. It will be the first time they will play in Sydney since the 2012 Grand Final.
What Are The Odds: Twice as much money has been placed on the Bulldogs in comparison to the Storm. Sportsbet reports that most of the money has gone on the Doggies to win by 13 points or more. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Ben Cummins. Assistant Referee: Chris James. Touch Judges: Russell Turner and Steve Carrall. Video Referees: Steve Chiddy and Ben Galea.
Televised: Fox Sports, Live, 7pm.
The Way We See It: So much rests on whether Cronk plays, but the Storm looked very good without him last week against a top-of-the-table side. The Bulldogs regain their Origin stars but Melbourne rarely lose three on the trot. Storm by 2.