Storm v Panthers preview
Melbourne Storm v Penrith Panthers
Momentum is a frustrating thing in footy. One minute you think you've finally got it, the next it's like it was never there to begin with.
As we approach the pointy end of the season these two teams are desperate to rediscover their mojo for good this time and end the rollercoaster of results.
For just the second time since 2002 Melbourne will need to overturn a run of four straight losses following their defeat at the hands of a red-hot Warriors last Sunday. Just six weeks ago the Storm were two games inside the top four, now a loss on Friday night could see them drop as low as 10th.
Coincidentally, their last win came against Penrith five weeks ago when the Panthers made 17 errors as the Storm shut them out 20-0.
Back-to-back wins in recent weeks would have had Ivan Cleary thinking he had finally turned a corner with his side but by the end of last week's 24-4 defeat to the Roosters he would have returned to scratching his head.
The big plus for the visitors is that they will enjoy an extra two days rest on their opposition this week as they chase their first win in Melbourne since 2005.
Both teams have remained unchanged in personnel following last week's defeats with the only swap being Felise Kaufusi to the bench for the Storm in place of Tim Glasby.
Watch Out Storm: Beware the poor starts – Melbourne has been as slow out of the blocks in recent weeks. Conceding the first three tries against New Zealand last week came after they found themselves 16-0 down after just 13 minutes against Canterbury the week before. Cameron Smith said his side would need an "attitude readjustment" to address the issue and given it will be the captain's 300th NRL game they should be up for the fight from the get-go. However should the Panthers score first it will likely plant the seed of doubt in a side that has not won since early June.
Watch Out Panthers: Beware the Milestone Man – Cameron Smith will become the first Storm player to reach 300 NRL games and just the 24th in history when he runs out onto AAMI Park on Friday night. Penrith should be expecting a fired-up Melbourne and, let's be honest, if they can't get up for this game, when will they? The impact of a player's milestone to a team's motivation once the game starts is up for debate, but with Smith held in such high esteem by not only his teammates but the city as a whole, the visitors better be on their guard from the outset.
Key Match-Up: Blake Green v Jamie Soward – The Penrith five-eighth was ruled out just before kick-off when these two teams last met back in Round 13. The Panthers failed to score any points while Green, his opposing number, ran riot, scoring two tries of his own. Now with Soward back in the side he may well prove the difference-maker however Green also posses a significant attacking threat having scored seven tries this season which sees him sit second on the Storm's try-scorers list behind only Marika Koroibete.
The History: Played 29; Storm 22, Panthers 7. The Storm have dominated the head-to-head between these two teams winning 13 of the past 14 games. Penrith have won only twice over from their 15 trips to Melbourne over the journey.
What Are The Odds: The home side are heavy favourites, with plenty of support for the Storm 13+. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referee: Jared Maxwell. Assistant Referee: Gavin Morris. Touch Judges: Russell Turner and Belinda Sleeman. Video Referees: Bernard Sutton and Luke Phillips.
Televised: GEM, Live, 7.30pm AEDT (Victoria), Channel Nine, Live, 7.30pm AEDT (QLD), Delayed, 9.30pm AEDT (NSW).
The Way We See It: The Panthers have an extra two day break but Melbourne will be desperate, not only to win for their skipper but to stop their season from sliding into the abyss. Storm by 2.