Schick Hydro Preview: Melbourne Storm v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
The top-of-the-table Storm take on fierce rivals the Sea Eagles in a match with finals implications on Sunday.
Melbourne will be without Billy Slater, the fullback still suffering an ongoing concussion from a brutal late head-high shot during the Storm’s gutsy 20-14 win over the Raiders.
Captain Cameron Smith also departed midway with a pectoral strain through the second of half on Saturday and is in some doubt to take part in what will be his 350th NRL match, but has been named in this week’s side.
The Sea Eagles are determined to make amends for their humbling 52-22 loss to the St George-Illawarra Dragons on Sunday. To their credit, Manly fought back from a 30-0 deficit to cut the lead to eight points but eventually succumbed to defeat.
After winning five straight to enter the top four, the Sea Eagles have dropped two of their past three games to fall to sixth spot and are desperate to build consistency towards the finals.
Why the Storm can win: The league-leading Storm have been hit with crucial injuries to superstars Slater and Smith this week. If Smith isn’t able to take the field for his milestone match in what will be added motivation for Melbourne, the side is capable of filling the void in his and Slater’s absence as they have shown during the Origin period. The Storm have been brave all season and their slim six-point win over a resolute Raiders side added to their list of spirited performances. Melbourne have shifted Cameron Munster to fullback, while Ryley Jacks was named alongside veteran Cooper Cronk in the halves and has flourished in his opportunities at five-eighth. In what would be a big addition for the side, Jordan McLean was also named in the side’s reserves and could make his return from injury. Nate Myles will have the added motivation of taking on his old side that discarded him just weeks ago. With the advantage of the home crowd behind them – where they hold a 5-2 record this season – Melbourne will be eager to keep their spot atop the ladder as they continue their march to the finals.
Why the Sea Eagles can win: There’s no love lost between the two sides and the Sea Eagles will be ready to take it to their fierce adversaries. Sitting in sixth position and four points clear of the ninth-placed Penrith Panthers, victory is essential in Manly cementing their top-eight position with six rounds to go. They welcome back Apisai Koroisau, Brenton Lawrence and Matt Wright into the side in place of Brad Parker, Darcy Lussick and Jarrad Kennedy. Manly’s issue lies with their defence which is the worst of the top-eight sides but they hold the league’s second-best attack with 418 points (just behind the Brisbane Broncos' 419 points scored). They will certainly need to focus on their attack to compensative for their defensive woes – however the Storm hold the league’s stingiest defence. Prop Martin Taupau's damaging runs and offloads will be key for the Sea Eagles and their forwards in matching the Storm’s big boys up front. Five-eighth Blake Green also has incentive to impress, facing his old club.
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Total Kicks, Try Assists, Line Break Assists, All Run Metres.
History: Storm v Sea Eagles –Played 31; Storm 17; Sea Eagles 13; Drawn 1. The stats show the two sides share a competitive history after meeting in the 2007 and 2008 Grand Finals. The Storm held on for a 30-26 win the last time the two sides met earlier this season in Round Seven at Lottoland. In their past eight matches since 2013, the Storm hold a 4-3 record along with one draw. The last time they met at AAMI Park in Round Eight, 2015, Manly escaped with a 12-10 win.
What are the odds: Three times the money has gone on Melbourne in Sportsbet's head-to-head market and twice the number of individual bets, however the support for Manly has been in handicap betting where they're receiving the points start. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Gerard Sutton, Tim Roby. Officials: Brett Suttor, Jarrod Cole. Video Referees: Ben Galea, Ashley Klein.
Televised: Fox League – Live coverage from 2.00pm (AEST).
How we see it: Much depends on whether Smith will play and if his pectoral strain has any ongoing effects on his performance. For Manly, their defence is a concern, particularly in facing the clinical and relentless Storm who will patiently break their opponents down over the process of the match. While skipper Smith has been named to play, Melbourne have proven their mantra of 'next-man up' certainly holds true if the milestone man doesn't take to the field. Storm by 7.