Storm v Sharks: Vunivalu returns; Feki replaces Katoa
The great rivalry between the Storm and Sharks will continue at AAMI Park on Sunday, with the semi-final pecking order adding further spice to a traditionally fierce contest.
Cronulla's history-making win over Melbourne in the 2016 grand final marks the most important of their clashes, but the remainder have also contained drama, intrigue and just enough spite to attract the interest of league fans everywhere.
Both clubs suffered round 21 defeats, with Cronulla's home loss to Manly particularly disappointing. Scoring 32 points and still losing goes against just about everything Cronulla have stood for during the coaching tenure of Shane Flanagan.
Melbourne will also be searching for improvement, but at least their loss to South Sydney came in a meeting of joint competition leaders.
If the Sharks don't get the job done on Sunday, they can pretty much say goodbye to any hopes they held of securing a double-chance in the finals.
Match: Storm vs Sharks
Round 22 -
Venue: AAMI Park
- Nine Network
- Fox League
- LIVE PASS
Key match-up: Matt Moylan v Cameron Munster. Two of the league's best young halves will have plenty to say about who wins this match. Munster is now firmly established as one of the premier No.6s in the NRL, while Moylan isn't far behind.
For the Storm to win: Target Matt Moylan in the defensive line. Moylan is great in attack, but some of his reads in defence are far from ideal. The Storm also need to continue integrating Jahrome Hughes into the halfback role. If they can add some organisational qualities to his individual skills before the finals, a deep September run is on the cards.
For the Sharks to win: Keep the ball moving. The 244 offloads by Cronulla this year is third-best in the NRL. Only the Warriors (258) and Dragons (251) have had more. When Paul Gallen, Andrew Fifita, Wade Graham and co are popping the ball out the back following runs, the likes of Valentine Holmes and Matt Moylan get the chance to shine.
Storm Stat Attack: The loss to the Rabbitohs featured a period of play Craig Bellamy won't want to see again. Melbourne were looking good while leading 16-6, only to the next 24 points in the match. The 30 points they allowed marked their second worse outing in 2018 when it comes to points conceded. Conceding 34 against the Dragons in round nine is their high-water mark for 2018.
Sharks Stat Attack: Their defence needs to improve on what they served up last week. As is the case the with Storm, the only time they have conceded more points in 2018 came in a clash with the Dragons (40 points in round six).
And another thing: Could this be the last time Paul Gallen and Cameron Smith meet in the heat of battle? Both men are unsigned for 2019. Be it at club or Origin level, the pair have featured in some great contests over the years. If Sunday proves to be their final clash, hopefully it is one worth remembering.
Fullback for Storm is number 1 Billy SlaterFullback for Sharks is number 1 Valentine Holmes
Winger for Storm is number 2 Suliasi VunivaluWinger for Sharks is number 2 Josh Dugan
Centre for Storm is number 3 Will ChambersCentre for Sharks is number 3 Jesse Ramien
Centre for Storm is number 4 Curtis ScottCentre for Sharks is number 4 Ricky Leutele
Winger for Storm is number 5 Josh Addo-CarrWinger for Sharks is number 20 Sosaia Feki
Five-Eighth for Storm is number 6 Cameron MunsterFive-Eighth for Sharks is number 6 Matt Moylan
Halfback for Storm is number 7 Jahrome HughesHalfback for Sharks is number 7 Chad Townsend
Prop for Storm is number 8 Jesse BromwichProp for Sharks is number 8 Andrew Fifita
Hooker for Storm is number 9 Cameron SmithHooker for Sharks is number 9 Jayden Brailey
Prop for Storm is number 10 Nelson Asofa-SolomonaProp for Sharks is number 10 Matt Prior
2nd Row for Storm is number 11 Felise Kaufusi2nd Row for Sharks is number 11 Luke Lewis
2nd Row for Storm is number 17 Joe Stimson2nd Row for Sharks is number 12 Wade Graham
Lock for Storm is number 13 Dale FinucaneLock for Sharks is number 13 Paul Gallen
Interchange for Storm is number 12 Ryan HoffmanInterchange for Sharks is number 14 Scott Sorensen
Interchange for Storm is number 14 Kenneath BromwichInterchange for Sharks is number 15 James Segeyaro
Interchange for Storm is number 15 Tim GlasbyInterchange for Sharks is number 16 Aaron Woods
Interchange for Storm is number 16 Christian WelchInterchange for Sharks is number 17 Jayson Bukuya
Storm: Joe Stimson starts in the back row with Ryan Hoffman to come off the bench.
Sharks: Sosaia Feki replaces Sione Katoa in the backline in a late change for Cronulla.
Head-to-head: Played 35; Storm 22 wins, Sharks 13 wins
Previous result: Sharks won 14-4 at Southern Cross Group Stadium in round 4
Points per game: Storm 23.8; Sharks 20.3
Points conceded per game: Storm 15.6; Sharks 18.2
Televised: Live on Nine, Fox League
Petero Civoniceva's prediction: What a way to finish the round! The Storm rarely drop two games in a row and the return of Suliasi Vunivalu is a massive boost. Craig Bellamy will demand a ruthless attitude going into September and I expect a strong response from the premiers at home this week. There's no doubt the Sharks are one of the teams that get under Melbourne's skin and the confrontations will be very physical.
Tip: Storm by 8