Schick Hydro Preview: Melbourne Storm v Cronulla Sharks
This is it. After 184 NRL games across 25 rounds, the minor premiership will be decided on the final weekend of the season.
The Melbourne Storm and Cronulla Sharks will battle it out for the JJ Giltinan Shield on Saturday night, with the winner able to say they were they best team over the course of the regular season.
However both sides are going into this game with form not synonymous with minor premiership winners, with the Storm winning just one of their past three and the Sharks claiming one from their past four.
Cronulla's run of late is particularly worrying because should they lose they risk dropping out of the top two, which would mean a tough trip to Canberra in week one of the finals.
Melbourne currently sit one point clear of the Sharks so even a draw would see them retain first spot, and the Storm will host a qualifying final in week one no matter the result.
The Sharks have named the same 17 from last weekend's win over the Roosters, although the Storm may tinker with their line-up before Saturday's clash.
Nelson Asofa-Solomona will miss the game through suspension, with Craig Bellamy calling up Matt White and Christian Welch on an extended bench.
Watch out Storm: Despite the minor premiership being on the line for both sides, it's tough to disagree with the fact the Sharks have more on the line. A loss against Melbourne and a win to Canberra on Sunday would see the Sharks lose their chance at a home qualifying final, and a trip to Canberra who would enter the game on a 10-match win streak would be one of the toughest matches they've had all season. That makes for a lot of motivation for Cronulla on Saturday night.
Watch out Sharks: Melbourne haven't lost back-to-back games all season, and there's no way Craig Bellamy's men would like to start now. After a sub-par performance against the Broncos at home in front of a bumper crowd last week, it's important for the Storm to not only get the win on Saturday night but to also play their best footy, as recent performances against Canberra and Brisbane haven't been up to standard. They'll be hungry, and they're a tough team to beat when they produce their best.
Key match-up: Suliasi Vunivalu v Valentine Holmes. There are so many match-ups that are crucial to either side winning this game, although this one in particular may be the most exciting. These two players are the best at what they do, as Suliasi Vunivalu and Valentine Holmes occupy the top two positions on the try scoring list. The Fijian rookie leads the league with 21, and has been a revelation in his opening season with the Storm. Holmes on the other hand has 18, and has been crucial to the Sharks' success, especially over their 15-game win streak. Whichever player is able to convert more of their chances will go a long way in helping their side lift the minor premiership.
The history: Played 30; Storm 20, Sharks 10. Melbourne have won four of the past five matches since 2013, although it was the Sharks who came away with the 14-6 win in the reverse fixture in Round 4 earlier on this season.
What are the odds: Sportsbet customers smell an upset here – 70 per cent of the money bet on the game has gone on Cronulla at the juicy odds. Expect the Sharks to firm as we approach kick off if the current rate of money continues. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Gerard Sutton. Assistant Referee: Alan Shortall. Touch Judges: Brett Suttor, Chris Butler. Review Officials: Ashley Klein, Ben Galea. Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live coverage from 7.30pm.
How we see it: This match definitely won't disappoint and will be a cracking game in front of what should be a season high attendance figure at AAMI Park. While there's arguably more on the line for the Sharks considering a loss could see them travel in the opening week, it's hard to see the Storm lose back-to-back matches at home and they should just be good enough to bring the minor premiership to Melbourne. Storm by 4.
Game on. Data off.
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