Storm v Dragons preview
Melbourne Storm v St George Illawarra Dragons
Saturday 5.30pm AET (7.30pm local time)
For the first time in the club's history Melbourne will play a home game outside of Victoria. The Storm will host the Dragons on Saturday afternoon at McLean Stadium in Napier, a seaside town located in Hawke's Bay on the east coast of New Zealand.
As we enter the business end of the season this contest shapes as a crucial one with just one win separating the Storm (5th) and Dragons (9th).
St George Illawarra's season continued on its downward decent last week with a 24-8 loss to the Rabbitohs, extending their winless run to six.
It is a far cry from just eight weeks ago when Paul McGregor's side side sat top of the table. Now the club is staring down the barrel of missing the finals for the fourth consecutive year.
Melbourne managed to end their own four-game losing streak in emphatic style last weekend with a 52-10 demolition over the undermanned Panthers.
Both teams look set to go into Saturday unchanged, with Cooper Cronk declared fit to play despite being forced to ice his knee with 10 minutes to go last week.
Watch Out Storm: The Storm have sold this home game across the ditch as a way to increase their bottom line but you can bet their football department is not thrilled with the timing. This will be Melbourne's second game in New Zealand in three weeks. It is a part of a hectic travel schedule for the Storm that sees them just one game in Melbourne in six weeks. The change in venue suits the Dragons just fine though, who have not won in Melbourne since 1999.
Watch Out Dragons: In the past six weeks it is no secret that the Dragons have struggled for points, with a highest score of 16 and an average of just 14. However their attack has been poor all season; even when they were top of the table their attack was still ranked just 12th in the NRL. The reason for their steep decline in recent weeks is their drop-off defensively. When the Dragons were flying they had the best defence in the Telstra Premiership, conceding just 11 points per game. However during their losing run that number has jumped to 22. And they could not have picked a worse time to play the Storm, who have just discovered their attacking mojo after scoring 10 tries from seven different try scorers against Penrith.
Key Match-Up: Cooper Cronk v Benji Marshall. Cronk is the most influential player in this Melbourne side. The three games he missed with a knee injury kick-started the Storm's mid-season slide. That slide was stopped last week, thanks largely to a Cronk clinic that saw the star halfback score two tries and produce two assists, a line break and a 40-20 kick by half-time. The Dragons desperately need Marshall to turn back the clock to his magical best to give his side the boost in an attack that has been lacking all season.
The History: Played 30; Storm 21, Dragons 8, Drawn 1. Melbourne hold a significant lead in the head-to-head but the Storm hold only a slim 3-2 advantage from the more recent meetings between these two teams.
What Are The Odds: Sportsbet have received 10 times the cash on the Storm compared to the Dragons. Melbourne have also been well backed to cover the line and also to win by 13+. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Matt Cecchin. Assistant Referee: Chris Butler. Touch Judges: Michael Wise, Anthony Elliott. Video Referees: Shane Hayne, Luke Phillips.
Televised: Fox Sports – LIVE from 5.30pm AEDT.
The Way We See It: The Dragons desperately need to regain their touch but it won't be this week against a Storm side featuring plenty of attacking weapons who seem to have rediscovered their swagger. Storm by 12.