Former Broncos premiership winner Brent Tate has declared the Storm as the overwhelming favourites to claim this year's Telstra Premiership but believes their 2016 conquerors are the one team capable of getting in their way.
With just five rounds of the regular season remaining the Storm sit atop the competition ladder on 34 points followed by the Roosters on 32 points and the defending premiers Cronulla third on 30 points.
Their gripping duel in last year's decider wasn't decided until the final play of the 80th minute and although the Storm have been strengthened by the sensational return of Billy Slater this season Tate still sees the Sharks as the greatest threat to their title claims.
"Melbourne are the competition's benchmark by a country mile. I can't believe what they keep doing every week – it's awesome to watch," Tate writes in the Round 22 issue of Big League.
"They keep getting better and are by far the favourites to win the title because of the form they're currently in.
"The hunger to win the comp is never the same the following year, but the Sharks are showing no signs of slowing down. They've had a few questionable games this season, but on the whole they've been rock solid.
"They're a big chance to win it again this year. I still think the Storm are the team to beat in 2017, but on their day the Sharks are a side the Storm would fear."
An Origin representative in 23 matches for Queensland, Tate has seen first-hand the influence that the Storm's 'big three' of Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater can have on a game of football and marvels at their continually high standards.
Playing in his 350th NRL match last Sunday, Smith was instrumental in Melbourne's 40-6 win over Manly with superb support from Cronk and according to Tate are the three major reasons Melbourne can win their first premiership since 2012.
"It blows me away how Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater continue to be so dominant every year," Tate says.
"They may be getting older, but their form is still fantastic.
"I don't think we've ever seen three more dominant players in the game. With Melbourne it doesn't matter what players are in or out, they're able to get the job done.
"The Storm's demolition of Manly last Sunday confirmed they are clearly the team to beat."
The Round 22 issue of Big League celebrates Retro Round with an old-school cover, a comparison between the nutrition and preparation of Balmain great Steve Roach and current Tigers captain Aaron Woods, Gavin Badger's best stories ahead of his 300th game as an NRL referee and the top eight clashes between the Dragons and Rabbitohs. On sale now at newsagents, supermarkets, at the ground and via www.magsonline.com.au/big-league.