Storm v Eels: Schick Preview
Schick Hydro Preview: Melbourne Storm v Parramatta Eels
The eighth-placed Parramatta Eels travel to Melbourne to take another step towards realising their finals dream as they face the league-leading Storm in a vital Saturday night clash.
It's a valuable opportunity for the Eels who should relish facing the Storm a week before Origin III, with the NRL front-runners missing a whopping six players of their side.
While it's healthy indication of the strength of Melbourne, the Origin period has certainly been testing of the side's depth.
Without skipper Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk, Will Chambers and Tim Glasby, the young Storm have answered the call so far but with Cameron Munster making his Queensland debut as well, it may be too large an obstacle for the Storm to overcome a high-flying Parramatta side.
The Eels are determined to reach the NRL finals for the first time since 2009 and this week will tell if they're ready to turn dreams to reality or are just dreaming.
Parramatta have won four of their last five and are coming off back-to-back wins.
Why the Storm can win: Coming off an emphatic 42-12 win over the Brisbane Broncos at Suncorp Stadium on Friday, the Storm (13-3) believe they're capable of victory every time they play. Their mantra of "next man up" is firmly imprinted in the club's psyche and their position four points clear atop the ladder proves their status as the NRL benchmark in season 2017. Never mind they're missing a huge six players for Game Three next Wednesday. Coach Craig Bellamy has instilled a strong belief and confidence in his youngsters to step in in the absence of players in the side.
The fact that Bellamy did not rush Smith, Slater, Cronk or Glasby back into the side after Origin II proves his trust in the likes of younger players such as Brodie Croft, Jahrome Hughes, Ryley Jacks, Curtis Scott and Slade Griffin. They showed they can hold their own going toe-to-toe with the North Queensland Cowboys and Sydney Roosters in Round 15 and 16. In hard-fought affairs, both matches went to golden point with Melbourne prevailing over the Cowboys but falling to the Roosters. There is still plenty of experience in the side and a powerful pack featuring captain Jesse Bromwich as well as Nate Myles who makes his club debut. Holding the league's best attack with 385 points scored (24.1 points per game) and the second-stingiest defence with 249 points conceded (15.6 points per game), Melbourne possess few, if any, weaknesses for the Eels to exploit.
Why the Eels can win: The Eels (9-7) are coming off stirring consecutive wins over the Canterbury Bulldogs in extra-time and the St. George-Illawarra Dragons. They have claimed four wins in their past five games after holding a 5-6 record midway through the year. They field a formidable side this week against a vulnerable Storm team with new-addition Mitchell Moses continuing to build his halves partnership with star playmaker Corey Norman. At fullback, Clinton Gutherson has been a revelation this season and is a major reason for Parramatta's recent strong form. Nathan Brown is also in sensational form after coming off a 28-run 238-metre performance last week. The Eels are starting to build momentum and belief as they set their sights on consolidating a top-eight position. Moreover, the last time they played at AAMI Park in Round 14, 2015 in similar circumstances with many of Melbourne's Origin stars serving representative duties, Parramatta clinched a 26-22 victory.
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Tries, Line Breaks, All Run Metres, Tackle Breaks.
History: Storm v Eels – Played 31, Storm 19 wins, Eels 12 wins. History shows the Storm hold the advantage over the Eels in head-to-head match-ups. Parramatta have won just once (Round 14, 2015) in their past five meetings, and just twice in their past eight encounters. Apart from the one win in 2015, the Eels' record at AAMI Park isn't favourable with a combined for-and-against of 50-170 in four games since 2011.
What are the odds: The money is running 10 to one in favour of Melbourne so Sportsbet punters are loving the big price available on the premiership favourites. Very few punters seem willing to trust Parramatta at such a short price, despite the fact that Melbourne's side has been decimated by Origin. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Gavin Badger, Jon Stone. Officials: Jeff Younis, Chris Treneman Video Referees: Bryan Norrie, Ashley Klein.
Televised: Fox League – Live coverage from 7.30pm (AEST).
NRL.com predicts: While the Storm will put the best foot forward in front of a home crowd, overcoming the absence of six star players may be too large an obstacle for them. With dangerous threats Gutherson, Moses and Norman leading the way, the Eels are desperate to consolidate a top-eight position and tighten their grip on their NRL Finals dream. Eels by 6.