The Run Home: Storm

How they stand: Melbourne sit in fifth place with a 9-8 record with yet another tumultuous Origin period behind them. Even without the injured Billy Slater, the Storm will have their eyes firmly fixed on a top-four spot and a tilt at premiership glory. For the past two years 15 wins was needed for a top-four finish, meaning Craig Bellamy's men will need to win six of their last seven to earn a double chance. It is a tough task but Melbourne now enter a favourable five-week period of their schedule that sees them play no team ranked higher than eighth-placed Cronulla. They then end the season in the toughest way possible against top-two sides North Queensland (home) and Brisbane (away). 

Remaining fixtures:
Round 20: v St-George Illawarra at McLean Park, 5.30pm, Saturday 25th July
Round 21: v Wests Tigers at Leichardt Oval, 7.35pm, Friday 31st July
Round 22: v Gold Coast at AAMI Park, 2pm, Sunday 9th  August
Round 23: v Cronulla at Remondis Stadium, 7pm, Monday 17th August
Round 24: v Newcastle at AAMI Park, 7pm, Monday 24th August
Round 25: v North Queensland at AAMI Park, 7.30pm, Saturday 29th August
Round 26: v Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium, 7.45pm, Thursday 3rd September 

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Key clash: Melbourne's chances of a top-four finish or at worst a home final will likely come down to the final game of the regular season against Brisbane. It is likely to shape the Storm's path through the finals series and whether they can make a true impact as a premiership contender. The Broncos defeated them at AAMI Park back in Round 15 but Suncorp is a place Melbourne has left victorious from eight of their past nine visits.

 

Key player: Nothing happens when Melbourne have the football without Cooper Cronk knowing about it. Prior to his knee injury in Round 13 the Storm were sitting pretty at the top of the ladder but by the time he returned four weeks later they had gone winless and dropped to the lower reaches of the eight. There is a already a significant question mark as to whether the Storm can win the premiership without Billy Slater but should Cronk be at his mercurial best during the run home it will go a long way to answering that question in the way Storm fans will be dreaming about.

Injury report: The words "Billy Slater" and "season" side-by-side on an injury list is the type of stuff you would liken to a Melbourne horror show. Slater underwent shoulder surgery following Origin II and was ruled out for the remainder of 2015. They must now find a way to deal without Slater or else it will be a third straight season without a finals win for the men in purple. Jordan McLean is the other worrying absence, still three to five weeks away from returning from his knee injury and with Tom Learoyd-Lahrs and Dayne Weston also not expected back for a couple of weeks the Storm's big man stocks have taken a significant hit. The club will desperate for all three to be fully fit as they approach finals and a possible date with powerhouse sides such as the Bulldogs and Roosters.

NRL.com predicted finish: 4th. 

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Ladder Predictor: Who will make the top eight?