Storm v Sharks: Schick Preview
Schick Hydro Preview: Melbourne Storm v Cronulla Sharks
The Melbourne Storm get their chance to avenge last year's heart-breaking premiership-deciding loss in Sunday's grand final rematch with the Cronulla Sharks.
While both clubs have several new faces in their line-up compared to last year's decider – particularly the Storm who have a number of new players this season including a fit-again Billy Slater – it's an opportunity for Melbourne to exorcise any mental demons or for the reigning premiers to reinforce a psychological advantage.
Although Cronulla finally claimed their first premiership against the Storm last season, four weeks earlier in a clash for the minor premiership at AAMI Park they faced a nightmare 26-0 shutout to the home side in Round 26.
This looms as a crucial contest for the Sharks who are determined to reclaim the form that carried them to the 2016 title, while Melbourne are motivated to remain the NRL's only undefeated side this season.
Why the Storm can win: The Storm are 5-0 to start the season and haven't even played their best football yet. Their enormous defensive effort and gritty resilience has allowed them to get away with an uncharacteristic amount of errors in their five wins. Holding any team to one try in 80 minutes, let alone a lethal Penrith Panthers attack, is impressive. They outclassed the aspiring Panthers 28-6 last week after an 18-0 second-half shutout. Melbourne were forced to make almost 50 tackles inside their own 20-metre line but repelled all of the Panthers' attacking threats. Their league-leading defence alone gives them a distinct advantage against the Sharks.
Why the Sharks can win: Cronulla have come out of the blocks slowly this season with a respectable 3-2 record. They achieved consecutive wins after a fortunate last-gasp 19-18 victory over the Newcastle Knights with perhaps one eye on this week's showdown already. A team must be able to confront Melbourne in the middle of the field and, with the likes of Paul Gallen, Luke Lewis, Wade Graham and Andrew Fifita, the Sharks are loaded with forward firepower. In his third game back from injury, Valentine Holmes displayed his freakish ability with a long-range try against the Knights and showed he is returning to his best form in a promising sign for Cronulla.
Key match-up: Dale Finucane vs Wade Graham. It's a thrilling match-up between two of the most hard-working warhorses in the NRL. Both are inspirational figures in their side whose monumental efforts are a big reason for their club's respective success. While Wade Graham earned his Origin debut for NSW last year, Dale Finucane is loudly slamming on the door for his inclusion in this year's Blues squad. Graham will be a key factor in Cronulla lifting to the occasion and Finucane will be ready to answer the challenge.
 Telstra Premiership: Dale Finucane vs Wade Graham
Offloads, Hit Ups, All Run Metres, Tackles.
History: Storm v Sharks: Played 32; Storm 21; Sharks 11. History shows the Sharks have been dominated by the Storm. Including last year's grand final win, Cronulla have beaten the Storm three times in their past 10 clashes. The Sharks are also on a six-game losing streak at AAMI Park.
What are the odds: Sportsbet customers expect Melbourne to exact revenge on the Sharks, and keep their unbeaten run going. There's 50 per cent more money on the Storm in the head-to-head market, and Josh Addo-Carr is the best backed in the first try scorer market. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Matt Cecchin, Gerard Sutton Sideline Officials: Michael Wise, Tim Roby. Video Referees: Luke Patten, Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live coverage from 4:00pm. Fox League – Live coverage from 4.00pm.
How we see it: While the big storyline will be about the grand final rematch, both sides are looking for improved performances in continuing to build for the rest of the season. It's also an ideal audition for several players' representative claims in the upcoming ANZAC Test and upcoming Origin series. It's a star-studded affair but the safer bet is with the mettle-tested Storm. Storm by 7.