Sharks v Storm preview
Cronulla Sharks v Melbourne Storm
Top four aspirations will be on the line when the red-hot Sharks host the Storm in arguably the game of the round.
That sentence that would have been almost unimaginable 10 weeks ago. But since then Cronulla have lost just the one game and for the second time in five weeks defeated the in-form Cowboys to move into fifth spot on the NRL ladder, just above the sixth-placed Storm.
That extended the Sharks' winning run to five in a row, their longest streak in three seasons.
It is staggering to think that last year's wooden spooners now have cause to dream of their first premiership in their 48-year history.
Threatening to put a dint in those hopes on Monday night will be their bogey side, Melbourne, a team the men from the Shire have beaten just once from their past 10 attempts.
A second-half demolition of the Titans last Sunday allowed Craig Bellamy's side to keep touch with the top four.
They will be without emerging prop Nelson Asofa-Solomona this week after he was handed a one-game suspension, with Felise Kaufusi taking his place on the bench.
Sam Tagatese for the Sharks also suffered the same fate courtesy of a dangerous contact charge, with Matt Prior named as his starting replacement. However the Sharks look set to receive a significant boost with veteran Luke Lewis named to return to the back row after spending a fortnight sidelined with a knee injury.
Watch out Sharks: Every star player has their breakout game and for young Storm fullback Cameron Munster, last Sunday may have been it. A second-half hat-trick capped off a brilliant display by the 20-year-old that also include a game-high 232 metres and three line breaks. Just 14 games into his first grade career, Munster already looks a bright star of the future and last week showed he is more than capable of taking the game away from the opposition in the blink of an eye.
Watch out Storm: You have to go back to mid-May for the last time Melbourne beat a team currently in the top eight. Since that Round 10 win over the Rabbitohs, the Storm have taken apart lesser opposition but failed to get the job done against a fellow finals aspirant. Against an in-form Cronulla side with their top four hopes on the line, there is no better time for Melbourne to stamp their mark as a real premiership contender or risk being dubbed a pretender.
Key Match-Up: Michael Ennis v Cameron Smith. No two players in the NRL have touched the footy this season more than these two men. Ennis and Smith are ranked first and second respectively for receives in 2015 so you can expect little will be happening on Monday night without either player knowing about it. Both are terrific leaders and geniuses with the football, making this head-to-head battle at hooker one that as a fan you just have to sit back and enjoy.
The History: Played 28; Sharks 9, Storm 19. Melbourne has dominated the recent meetings winning nine of the last 10 by an average margin of nearly 20 points.
What Are The Odds: Punters with Sportsbet have found this to be the toughest game of the round to find a winner in. The money has been split 50/50 in head-to-head betting although there has been slightly more on the Sharks to scrape home 1-12 when it comes to the winning margin. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referee – Gerard Sutton; Assistant Referee – Gavin Badger; Touch Judges – Russell Turner & Peter Gough; Video Referees – Bernard Sutton & Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports, Live, 7pm.
The Way We See It: Flip a coin if you wish. Melbourne have already lost four Monday night games this year but will be well rested after playing just one game in 17 days. However momentum is a true force in this competition and it is the Sharks who have found it just at the right time. Sharks by 2.