Schick Hydro Preview: Melbourne Storm v North Queensland Cowboys
In a re-match of last year's preliminary final, the Melbourne Storm will take on reigning premiers the North Queensland Cowboys on Saturday night during Indigenous round.
The match will be the first game of a double header at Suncorp Stadium, with the Storm moving their home game to Brisbane to accommodate for this special event. The Sea Eagles and the Broncos will do battle in the following game.
Both sides are in very good form recently, with the Storm scoring 80 unanswered points in their wins over the Warriors and the Gold Coast in their previous two matches.
The Cowboys have won five on the bounce after losing in golden point to the Broncos in Round 4, and have scored more than 30 points in four of those five victories.
Both sides go into this match unchanged, which seems to be a rarity for the Storm this season as injuries have severely lowered the head count in the outside backs department.
The Cowboys name the same 17 for the third week running as they look to consolidate the continuity of their first grade line-up.
Watch out Storm: In the opening nine rounds, the Storm have used eight separate backline combinations due to countless injuries to outside backs. While Melbourne are still trying to gather some consistency in that area, the Cowboys have not only been injury free at the back but all over the field, with this week marking the third consecutive game this 17 has played together. If it comes down to the wire, the stability and experience of the Cowboys could be enough to propel them over the line.
Watch out Cowboys: While the Cowboys are the best attacking team in the league, the defence of the Storm over recent weeks is record-breaking. Never in the Storm's history have they kept opponents to zero in consecutive games, but that all changed in Rounds 8 and 9 with wins over the Warriors (42-0) and the Titans (38-0). Those two outings also saw the Storm score their highest points totals for the season so far, so they appear to be finding form at the right time for this clash.
Key match-up: Cooper Cronk v Johnathan Thurston. The battle of two of the greatest halfbacks in the modern game resumes on Saturday night, as Queensland's halves pairing of Cronk and Thurston prepare to face off in an exciting battle. Cronk has had a slow start to the season and admitted his contract saga may have been weighting on his mind early, but has looked very dangerous over the past month and now has six tries to his name in 2016. Thurston has had another impressive opening to the season, marshalling his team to top spot after nine rounds courtesy of a league high 13 assists and 88 points. Whichever player is able to get the upper hand will go a long way towards earning a victory for their team.
The history: Played 30; Storm 20, Cowboys 10. While the overall record suggests the Storm have the advantage over the Cowboys, North Queensland have won three of the past five encounters between the two sides, including the 32-12 win in last season's preliminary final.
What are the odds: Melbourne have been fairly well supported but there's still 15 per cent more money riding on the Cowboys according to Sportsbet. North Queensland 1-12 is the way punters are going however this is the most even betting game of the round. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Gerard Sutton. Assistant referee: Adam Devcich. Touch judges: Michael Wise, Rohan Best. Review officials: Ben Galea, Jason Robinson. Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live coverage from 5pm (AEST)
How we see it: Both sides are playing good football over recent weeks and will be looking to extend their runs, but with the home ground advantage not a factor for the Storm, it doesn't give them they edge they would have had if the game was in Melbourne. The resilient Cowboys should be too strong; North Queensland by 10.