Schick Hydro Preview: Melbourne Storm v Penrith Panthers
The Melbourne Storm will be out to make it six wins in a row when they take on the Penrith Panthers on Saturday night.
It's the first home game at AAMI Park since Anzac Day for the Storm, and they will be looking to extend their lead at the top of the table against a team they've had the wood over in recent years.
The Storm have won nine of the past 10 games against the Panthers, but their initial team list suggests a win this Saturday night will have to come without their Origin stars.
Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk have not been named for this weekend's clash, and have been replaced by Kenny Bromwich and Tohu Harris respectively.
The Panthers also have two Origin representatives in Matt Moylan and Josh Mansour, however both of them have been named to take the field on Saturday night against the Storm.
The Panthers have won three out of their past five NRL matches and are sitting in eighth position, but will need to do something they've never done before to get the points on Saturday night.
Penrith have lost all five previous meetings at AAMI Park against Melbourne, but with the Storm without their Origin stars this could be their best chance.
Watch out Storm: It's never an easy task for the Storm to win a game without the likes of Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith and what will make it extra hard on Saturday night is the experience of their direct opponents. Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace will take up their usual spots at halfback and hooker against the Storm, and will look to use their wealth of experience to get on top of Tohu Harris and Kenny Bromwich. While Harris and Bromwich are more then capable to step up and perform against Penrith, if Soward and Wallace can win their respective battles it will go a long way to a Panthers victory.
Watch out Panthers: While the Panthers have named both of their Origin stars for Saturday's clash, you wouldn't expect them to be at 100 per cent fitness just three nights after what should be a gruelling Origin I encounter. Matt Moylan and Josh Mansour will come up against a strong backline on Saturday night, which is the last thing they'll be hoping for after such a short break. The Storm have pace on the wings and in behind with Suliasi Vunivalu, Marika Koroibete and Cameron Munster, so watch out for Melbourne to exploit the Panthers' backline fatigue.
Key match-up: Kevin Proctor v Bryce Cartwright. Both of these big second-rowers will have a huge say in which way the results swings on Saturday night. Proctor has been ever-present in the Storm's line up this season, while some say that Cartwright was a bit stiff not to gain a Blues jersey. The Panthers thrive on second phase play and Cartwright is a big part of that, so Proctor and his fellow forwards need to be on their game in order to limit Cartwright's impact.
The history: Played 30; Storm 23, Panthers 7. The Storm have been the Panthers' bogey side over the past few seasons, with the Storm victors in nine of the past 10 meetings between the two sides. Melbourne won both games against Penrith last season, with their most recent meeting ending in a 52-10 win to the Storm.
What are the odds: Around 80 per cent of all money wagered on this game has gone on Melbourne however Sportsbet punters seem to be thinking they'll get home by 1-12 rather than 13+. The flying Fijians Marika Koroibete and Suliasi Vunivalu dominate betting in the first tryscorers market.
Match officials: Referee: Matt Cecchin. Assistant referee: Chris Butler. Touch judges: Russell Turner, Tim Roby. Review officials: Bryan Norrie, Jared Maxwell. Senior RO: Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live coverage from 7.30 (AEST)
How we see it: If both teams line up as named on Tuesday night, this should be one tough encounter. Regardless of whether or not each team's rep players back up on Saturday night, the Storm should have no problems continuing their hot streak against the Panthers. Storm by 10.