Wests Tigers v Melbourne Storm
On paper this game is a mismatch of epic proportions, but dig a little deeper and Friday night could prove to be a greater contest than most expect.
Melbourne travel to Leichhardt Oval, a place they have won just four times from 12 visits, to face a Wests Tigers outfit who will welcome back their skipper with open arms after a torrid month that has seen them fall to the foot of the NRL ladder.
An 8-4 half-time deficit ultimately blew out to a 33-8 win for the Roosters in Round 20, making it five straight defeats for Wests.
On the flip side the Storm re-staked their claim for a top four finish, brushing off the Dragons 22-4.
While their form lines are heading in opposite directions, the Tigers may be getting Melbourne at the right time, who have had just a five day break after their two flight trip back from Napier.
The Storm will also nervously await to fortune of star prop Jesse Bromwich who was referred directly to the NRL Judiciary to face a dangerous contact charge after allegations made by Dragons fullback Josh Dugan.
Wests Tigers had woes of their own at the Match Review Committee with Martin Taupau handed a three-week suspension for his hit on James Maloney.
Sauaso Sue will be his replacement and Robbie Farah's return to hooker means Dene Halatau shifts to the back row in place of the injured Chris Lawrence (ankle).
Watch out Tigers: Incomplete defence – You have to go back seven weeks, to Round 14, for the last time the Wests Tigers finished a game with a completion rate of more than 80%. Their inability to keep the ball in possession is putting enormous pressure on their defence and it is starting to show. During their five game losing run, Jason Taylor's men have conceded an average of 33.6 points per game. That stat could make for perfect conditions for Melbourne, considering how dynamic they've been in attack over the past fortnight, scoring 14 tries from eight different try scorers. If Wests Tigers fail to retain possession on Friday night, their defence has proved itself incapable of providing much resistance at all.
Key Match-Up: Robbie Farah v Cameron Smith – Farah has been named to play his first game since breaking his hand prior to Origin III in Round 16. His side has not won a game during that time but with their skipper back it undeniably is a huge boost. With the way these two rival skippers go about their business you can bet not much happens on the field without them knowing about it. Farah averages 100 receives per game, Smith 106 and whichever player can make the most of those count will likely lead their side to a Friday night win.
The History: Played 25; Tigers 9, Storm 16. There's not much between these two teams in more recent times with Melbourne holding the slight advantage, winning three of the past five meetings.
What Are The Odds: The money is running three to one with the Storm but Tigers fullback James Tedesco has been the best backed player to score the game’s first try. Storm 13+ is the most popular winning margin according to Sportsbet. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referee – Adam Devcich; Assistant Referee – Chris Sutton; Touch Judges – Rick MacFarlane and Kasey Badger; Video Referees – Jared Maxwell, Luke Patten.
Televised: Channel Nine, delayed, 9.30pm (NSW & QLD), GO!, Live, 7.30pm (Victoria).
The Way We See It: The Storm's short turnaround makes this a much closer game than their respective ladder positions suggest, however it would take a brave man to pick an upset. Storm by 6.