First faces fourth to see who can earn the week off. Will it be the Minor Premiers, who look as sharp and dangerous as ever after a dominant display over the second placed Sharks? Or will it be the reigning Premiers, Back in form after three solid victories and welcoming back representative prop Matt Scott?

LAST TIME OUT

The Storm sent shivers through the competition with their display last weekend. Just as teams were going to gain some confidence about facing them after their loss to the Broncos, they destroyed the Sharks and set the benchmark for what will be finals football this season. It was hard to see where they would be scored against, their defensive line was bullet-proof and it made the workload for the Sharks forwards difficult as they would run hard and then be stopped for very few metres. The backline was just as defiant and it took until the 69th minute for this defense to be breached. In attack, they were machine-like in their consistency. A 92% completion rate and only a few penalties gave little opportunity for Cronulla to do anything but defend desperately. Few sides could match up against that and the Sharks were found wanting. In front of a packed house and watched by Foxtel’s largest audience for a regular round Saturday night match, the Storm sent a clear message to seven other teams.

North Queensland Cowboys hosted the young guns of the Titans. The reigning Premiers were clinical and but for the surprisingly slightly off kicking game of Thurston, they also put on a display made to show that they were ready for this weekend rather than the regular season. Hard running, fast play the ball, slick line moves utilizing one of the best backlines in the completion made life difficult for the Titans. Morgan and Thurston worked as well as they have all season long and created opportunities across the park. They lacked the high completion rate of their opponents in this coming clash, but the heat can be blamed for some of that. The stakes are raised and the opponent is a step up in quality, the temperature is lower and it should be a fantastic game.

KEY BATTLE

This is the battle between two cultures in football styles. The Storm and Cowboys play different styles of football, led around by their respective halfbacks. We have Cooper Cronk versus Johnathan Thurston, differing styles of play for different sides. Thurston has been the rudder and keel for the Cowboys and every team has tried to shut him down. Cronk is busy, but his skills work best behind the line rather than at it as per JT. Last match saw Thurston run for over 150 metres and we had Cooper be a major part in the Storm kicking for 650+ metres as they kept turning the big men of Cronulla around. The kicking game of Thurston is legendary, but the Cronk was tactical and clever in his employment last weekend. In addition, both players are tied with try assists this season, they have directly set up many and been key to many more. It is not hard to see that these two players will be the key battle, even when comparing such excellent teams.

PREDICTION

The Cowboys head down to AAMI park knowing that their last visit to Melbourne was a 32-12 victory in the Preliminary final that knocked the confident Storm out and led to their first premiership. The two matches this year were close affairs and the margins both time favoured the hosts of Saturday night’s game. The Storm would not have forgotten their shock loss last year, but neither have the Cowboys. Can they once again bring some lightning and light up the Storm. A week off is the reward, and the advantage of hosting the Preliminary final is the cherry on top. Both sides want this, but on the performance last week, the betting man would be slightly favouring the Storm.

My heart says Cowboys by 8 but the brain would say Storm by 4.

SQUADS

Storm:
1 Cameron Munster 2 Suliasi Vunivalu 3 William Chambers 4 Cheyse Blair 5 Marika Koroibete
6 Blake Green 7 Cooper Cronk 8 Jesse Bromwich 9 Cameron Smith 10 Tim Glasby 11 Kevin Proctor
12 Tohu Harris 13 Dale Finucane Interchange: 14 Kenneth Bromwich 15 Christian Welch
16 Jordan McLean 17 Ben Hampton

Cowboys:
1 Lachlan Coote 2 Kyle Feldt 3 Justin O’Neill 4 Kane Linnett 5 Antonio Winterstein 6 Michael Morgan 7 Johnathan Thurston 8 Matt Scott 9 Jake Granville 10 James Tamou 11 Gavin Cooper 12 Ethan Lowe 13 Jason Taumalolo Interchange: 14 Rory Kostjasyn 15 Coen Hess 16 Scott Bolton 17 Ben Hannant