For the first time since they played in the decider at ANZ Stadium last October, Melbourne Storm get the opportunity to avenge their defeat to Cronulla Sharks when they meet at AAMI Park on Sunday.

This week Grand Final replay has been overshadowed by Cooper Cronk’s decision to leave the Storm at the end of this season, which will provide extra motivation for Melbourne to send him out a premiership winner.

 

LAST TIME OUT

Melbourne Storm hosted Penrith Panthers at AAMI Park last Saturday.  For the first twenty minutes of the game it was a faultless display with no handling errors as they skipped out to a ten point lead.  Penrith were back in the game after Te Maire Martin’s try fourteen minutes from the break.  Two minutes after half time the Storm struck through Cooper Cronk.  They maintained their lead off the back of solid try line defence, frustrating the Panthers.  Late tries to Josh Addo-Carr and Suliasi Vunivalu handed the home side a 28-6 win.

Cronulla Sharks were seeking their first win at home in 2017 when they took on Newcastle Knights.  It looked like they were cruising to victory at 18-6 thirteen minutes into the second half thanks to contributions by Gerard Beale, Sosaia Feki and Valentine Holmes.  But the Knights had other thoughts and worked their way back into the game thanks to a long range effort by Brendan Elliot and the equaliser through Jacob Gagan.  It would be James Maloney two minutes from time sealing victory with a field goal.

KEY BATTLE

This game is ultimately decided in the forwards as each side tries to out muscle each other. Andrew Fifita proved on Grand Final Day that he is one player who can break the game open and get under the skin of the Melbourne Storm pack.  This is one area where Cronulla can dominate thanks to the loss of Jesse Bromwich to injury.  The back rowers for both sides provide solid combinations with Felise Kaufusi, Kenny Bromwich and Dale Finucane in-form coming up against the experience of Paul Gallen, Wade Graham and Luke Lewis.

Once both sides have tired through the physical confrontations it comes down to the quicks out wide.  Suliasi Vunivalu and Josh Addo-Carr are the most potent wing combination in the game right now and their use against Penrith late in the piece blew out the score line. Valentine Holmes will have to be at the top of his game and get some assistance from Sosaia Feki and Jack Bird to repel the Storm.

PREDICTION

Just like the Panthers last week, Cronulla haven’t won at AAMI Park with their closest effort a 20-18 loss in 2012.  Despite the loss of Jesse Bromwich and Cheyse Blair from the named side earlier this week, the Storm’s form and added motivation should be enough to see them remain unbeaten after six rounds.

Storm by 16

SQUADS

Storm: 1. Billy Slater 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 3. William Chambers 4. Cheyse Blair 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Ryley Jacks 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Cameron Smith 10. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Kenneath Bromwich 13. Dale Finucane 14. Joe Stimson 15. Tim Glasby 16. Mark Nicholls 17. Tui Kamikamica 18. Young Tonumaipea 19. Dean Britt 20. Christian Welch 21. Jordan McLean

Sharks: 1. Valentine Holmes 2. Sosaia Feki 3. Jack Bird 4. Ricky Leutele 5. Gerard Beale 6. James Maloney 7. Chad Townsend 8. Andrew Fifita 9. Jayden Brailey 10. Matt Prior 11. Luke Lewis 12. Wade Graham 13. Paul Gallen 14. Jayson Bukuya 15. Chris Heighington 16. Jeremy Latimore 17. James Segeyaro 18. Joseph Paulo 19. Kurt Capewell 20. Edrick Lee 21. Sam Tagataese