Schick Hydro Preview: Melbourne Storm v Brisbane Broncos
Both Melbourne and Brisbane will be playing finals this season, but this Round 25 clash has a significant bearing on which position each team will finish on the NRL Telstra Premeirship ladder.
For the Broncos, a win would put them in a three-way tie for fourth spot if the Cowboys beat the Bulldogs at Belmore on Thursday night.
Even if Canterbury win, a Broncos victory would still keep them within two points of the top four, meaning they'll still have a shot at gaining the double chance in the finals when they take on the Roosters in the last round.
For the Storm it's much simpler, win and the 2016 NRL minor premiership is theirs.
Melbourne currently hold a three-point lead over Cronulla with just two games to go, and a win would make them untouchable in top spot, bringing the J.J. Giltinan Shield back to Melbourne.
These two sides have already played each other this season but it's one the Broncos will have forgotten quickly, as the Storm smashed Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium 48-6 in Round 17.
Both sides have named unchanged line-ups after wins last weekend.
Watch out Storm: Despite a mid-season slump that saw the Broncos drop four games during the State of Origin period, Brisbane have found some much needed form over recent weeks. Wins against the Bulldogs, Eels and Dragons have seen the Broncos win three on the bounce and in doing so have kept themselves in the hunt for a top four spot. Brisbane know the dangers of finishing outside the top four – no team has won the competition from outside the four since the eight team finals series was introduced in 1999 – so they'll be hungry to keep their chances alive in this must-win game.
Watch out Broncos: A win on Friday night would seal top spot for the Storm, but more importantly it would allow for Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk to get some well-deserved rest. The pair have been in and out of training with the rest of the squad since the Origin period began, and Craig Bellamy would still love to give them a week off if the opportunity permits. Even though the Storm face the Sharks at home the following weekend, they know a win this Friday night would at least give them the chance to rest their stars, and Melbourne will be doing everything in their power to give their playmakers a rest, starting with a win against the Broncos.
Key match-up: Cooper Cronk v Ben Hunt. Two of the league's top halfbacks this season go head-to-head on Friday night in what is shaping up to be an intriguing battle. Cooper Cronk has been one of the NRL's best players this season, as he leads the league in try assists with 21, and has added 11 tries of his own, breaking the double figure barrier for just the third time in his career. Ben Hunt sits third in the try assists category with 19, and has had the second highest number of kicks in play this season, showcasing his worth to the Broncos side. Both players will be looking to one-up each other on Friday night, and the halfback that wins this battle will go a long way in helping their side claim the two competition points.
The history: Played 39; Storm 26, Broncos 12, Drawn 1. Melbourne have dominated recent meetings against Brisbane, winning nine of their past 10 clashes. The two sides met earlier in the season in Round 17, with the Storm handing the Broncos their largest ever loss at Suncorp Stadium, running in eight tries to one in a 48-6 drubbing.
What are the odds: Very even betting game with the money split 50/50 with Sportsbet. Both sides have been backed to win the match 1-12 but Suliasi Vunivalu is the overwhelming favourite in the first try scorer market. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Ashley Klein. Assistant Referee: Gavin Badger. Touch Judges: Chris Butler, Brett Suttor. Review Officials: Luke Patten, Steve Chiddy. Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Channel Nine Live coverage from 7.30pm (Live on GEM in Melbourne); Fox Sports – Live coverage from 7.30pm.
How we see it: The Storm at home are always a tough proposition for opposing clubs, and with Brisbane's recent record against Melbourne it makes it even tougher. The form the Broncos are in will definitely give them confidence that they can match it will the ladder leaders, but come Friday night, the Storm should have too much firepower and will go on to claim the minor premiership. Storm by 10.
Game on. Data off.
Stream every NRL game, including finals, live and data free with a 2016 Footy Pass, exclusive to Telstra mobile.
Watch all the NRL action live on your compatible tablet or mobile device with data-free streaming on your Telstra mobile plan.
For use in Australia only.