Dragons v Storm: Scott out, Olam and Robson to make debuts
League lovers everywhere are salivating at the prospect of this heavyweight clash, which understandably is being talked about as a potential grand final preview.
A lot still has to happen between now and September and teams like the Cowboys and Roosters might ultimately have something to say come finals time, but if the Dragons and Storm both get through the representative period unscathed and lose little or no ground on the ladder, they could very easily be the last ones standing on grand final day.
It's been 19 years since the Dragons squandered a match-winning lead to the Storm in the 1999 grand final. Coach Paul McGregor was Dragons co-captain that day and would still have bitter memories after being so close he could taste it. Winning it all this season as coach all these years later would ease some of the hurt.
This round nine stoush is easily the most anticipated game of the season thus far and will have everybody waking on Sunday morning eagerly counting down to kick-off.
St George Illawarra Dragons v Melbourne Storm, 2pm Sunday at Jubilee Oval
Key match-up: It's too hard to pinpoint one single match-up with so many players in terrific form for these two teams. Cameron McInnes is up against who many believe is rugby league's G.O.A.T, Matt Dufty is opposite the great Billy Slater, while Gareth Widdop and Cameron Munster will be relishing their head-to-head duel. If we have to pick, we'll go with Ben Hunt against inexperienced halfback Ryley Jacks. Hunt should be in the mood to show the 25-year-old a trick or two. But then there's Kaufusi v Frizell, Macdonald v Addo-Carr … you get the picture.
For the Dragons to win: If they come out with the same fervour and focus as they did in last week's impressive defeat of the Roosters, the Dragons will have a great shot. But Melbourne pride themselves on being able to withstand an early barrage and the Dragons have to be prepared to stay patient and fight it out in the trenches if need be.
For the Storm to win: If the Dragons scored well with the judges against the Roosters, the Storm's first-half demolition of the Warriors must rate as a perfect 10. They might not face the same brittle defence on Sunday, but the Storm once again showed they are the masters of sensing when a team is ready for the kill – be it in the eighth or 80th minute – and going for the jugular. Look for Smith, Slater and Munster to exploit the slightest weakness.
Dragons stat attack: The Dragons have won eight of their past nine at Kogarah but not against Melbourne. Their last victory over the Storm at Kogarah was way back in 2009. Back-rower Tyson Frizell has never experienced a win in six games against Melbourne.
Storm stat attack: Before joining the Storm this season, prop Sam Kasiano had played the Dragons 10 times and won on all 10 occasions. Melbourne have defeated the Dragons in six of their past eight meetings.
And another thing: Most footy followers know the story of the Dragons blowing a match-winning lead in the 1999 grand final against the Storm and losing 20-18 on the final play of the game. Their next meeting wast as close, with Melbourne romping to a record-setting 70-10 victory in round five of the 2000 season.
Match: Dragons vs Storm
Venue: Jubilee Oval
- Fox League
- LIVE PASS
Dragons: 1 Matthew Dufty, 2 Nene Macdonald, 3 Euan Aitken, 4 Tim Lafai, 5 Jason Nightingale, 6 Gareth Widdop (c), 7 Ben Hunt, 8 James Graham, 9 Cameron McInnes, 10 Paul Vaughan, 11 Tyson Frizell, 12 Tariq Sims, 13 Jack De Belin
Interchange: 14 Jeremy Latimore, 15 Kurt Mann, 16 Leeson Ah Mau, 17 Reece Robson
Reserves: 19 Zachary Lomax, 20 Mitchell Allgood
The Dragons again have no injury concerns but have named Reece Robson in jersey 17 ahead of Jacob Host for a possible NRL debut. Host and Hame Sele were trimmed from the squad on Saturday afternoon.
Storm: 1 Billy Slater, 2 Suliasi Vunivalu, 3 Will Chambers, 22 Justin Olam, 5 Josh Addo-Carr, 6 Cameron Munster, 7 Ryley Jacks, 8 Christian Welch, 9 Cameron Smith (c), 10 Nelson Asofa-Solomona, 11 Felise Kaufusi, 12 Ryan Hoffman, 15 Kenny Bromwich
Interchange: 14 Brandon Smith, 13 Dale Finucane, 16 Joe Stimson, 17 Sam Kasiano
Curtis Scott is out and has been replaced by Justin Olam, a 24-year-old rookie from Papua New Guinea. Suliasi Vunivalu returns on the wing, while Dale Finucane is back at lock, with Christian Welch shifting to prop for Tim Glasby (thumb, six weeks). Young Tonumaipea and Patrick Kaufusi were omitted from Craig Bellamy's initial 21-man squad 24 hours before kick-off. Finucane was put back to the bench in the final line-up submitted an hour before kick-off with Kenny Bromwich promoted to start at lock. Tui Kamikamica and Brodie Croft were dropped off the reserves list.
Head-to-head: Played 34; Storm 24 wins, Dragons 9 wins, 1 draw
Matches at venue: Played 4; Storm 3 wins, Dragons 1 win
2017 result: Storm won 34-22 at WIN Stadium in round 9
Points per game: Dragons 28.8; Storm 26.5
Points conceded per game: Dragons 13.5; Storm 13.9
Televised: Live on Fox League
Steve Turner's prediction: The game of the round! The Dragons have been brilliant across the park this year thanks to stability, continuity and no injuries, but they will be tested this week. The Storm have hit their straps and have shown they will once again prominent in September. It's so hard to split the two sides, but the difference will be Cameron Smith who has been superb over the past three weeks. TIP: Storm by 4