Schick Hydro Preview: St George Illawarra Dragons v Melbourne Storm
This game could very well have been second v sixth in Wollongong on Saturday night.
Such is the closeness of the competition however, the Dragons' 18-point loss to the Bulldogs on Monday afternoon left them languishing at 11th on the NRL Telstra Premiership.
Facing the Bulldogs off the back of a 16-day turnaround, the Dragons will be primed to face the Storm within five days of their disappointing defeat with coach Paul McGregor backing the same 17 in to do the job.
For Melbourne, Blake Green returns at halfback while Young Tonumaipea and Matt White come on to the bench with chief destroyers Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk on Queensland Origin duty.
Positional changes sees Kenny Bromwich don the No.9 jumper for the second time in three weeks and Felise Kaufusi start in the back row for the Storm following their 46-point shellacking of the Roosters.
Watch out Dragons: If the form of Cameron Munster is scary for Dragons fans, imagine how Billy Slater feels? The veteran custodian must be struggling to see where he fits into the Storm's 17 next season, with his replacement killing it at the moment. Against the Roosters, Munster produced a try, three try assists, four line breaks and six tackle breaks in last weekend's show-stealing performance.
Watch out Storm: Jack de Belin made an earlier than expected return from a shoulder injury against the Bulldogs on Monday afternoon and his performance went to show how much the Dragons have missed him of late. De Belin made 120 metres and 35 tackles from the bench and will be out to re-visit his amazing early-season form.
Key Match-Up: Kurt Mann v Suliasi Vunivalu – Mann will face his former Storm side and an unfamiliar foe in Suliasi Vunivalu. Melbourne's newest Fijian sensation has been setting the NRL try-scoring table alight in 2016, where he is yet to score just one try in a game (four doubles, one hat-trick). Mann scored a double against the Bulldogs but not even his form can match his Storm counterpart. Vunivalu sits second on the NRL's top try-scorers list, just one behind Sharks flyer Valentine Holmes.
The History: Played 32; Dragons 8, Storm 23, Drawn 1. The Dragons have only beaten the Storm four times in 20 starts since 2005. Melbourne have won their past three against the Red V. Yet a glimmer of hope remains for the Dragons faithful if locale is to have any influence – having won their past two games in Wollongong against the Storm (in 2012, 2014).
What are the Odds: Sportsbet customers aren't at all concerned about Melbourne missing Smith and Cronk, with 90 per cent of all money invested on the game going on the Storm. Expect the big price on offer for Melbourne to shorten if the current rate of money continues to come in. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Matt Cecchin. Assistant Referee: Grant Atkins. Sideline Officials: Jason Walsh and Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live Coverage from 6:55pm.
The way we see it: No Cronk and no Smith is such a huge factor for the Storm. The Dragons will be desperate after blowing last week's chance of consolidating a top eight spot. Up against a Storm team without their two veterans, you couldn't ask for a better opportunity to face them and it'll be a task the Dragons won't take lightly. St George Illawarra by six points.