Melbourne Storm after back-to-back losses return home to AAMI Park on Friday night, meeting a Newcastle Knights side looking for consecutive wins.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
The Storm played in the opening match of the New Zealand doubleheader and were met with another encounter against Wests Tigers, going down 11-10 courtesy of a Benji Marshall field goal.
Newcastle hosted the Brisbane Broncos and with a 7-0 lead at halftime, the Knights were able to hang on to a late charge from the Broncos to win the game 15-10.
After two poor performances, Craig Bellamy has dropped under performing halfback Brodie Croft for Ryley Jacks. Kenny Bromwich will start at lock with Tim Glasby shifting to the bench.
Mitch Barnett has accepted a one-week suspension allowing prop Herman Ese’ese to shift to lock and have Daniel Saifiti move from bench to prop. Jacob Saifiti fills the vacant spot on the interchange.
The last time these sides met Melbourne thumped the Knights 44-12 in Newcastle, with the Storm going on to win the title and another wooden for the Knights. In 2018 the Storm has struggled with consistency and the Newcastle side reigning in many new faces to now have a more threatening team to win games.
The key matchup for this fixture will be the new excitement machine in Kayln Ponga and the arguably best fullback of the NRL era in Billy Slater going head-to-head for the first time.
Clive Churchill winner of the past season Billy Slater has taken to a more involved role since their old chief playmaker for years in Cronk has left. Slater has been mediocre for what we have come to expect with his involvement the more of errors that have gone up. The Storm back will be looking to show Ponga a masterclass in the position to raise his try assists and touches earlier in the attacking sets to desperately help his underperforming team get back to its previous attacking potency.
Kayln Ponga has set alight the competition with his raw speed and stuttering stepping that many had seen glimpses of in previous years. The Newcastle fullback coming up against the master of the position will look to use what has been his best attribute in tackle-busting, which Kayln has produced 41 of them within just 5 rounds. His involvement will be crucial if the away side is to best a desperate Storm side at home with their new combinations still in early development.
Prediction: Storm by 6
The Newcastle Knights have only won twice in 10 matches played against Melbourne at AAMI Park.
Storm: 1 Billy Slater, 2 Suliasi Vunivalu, 3 Young Tonumaipea, 4 Curtis Scott, 5 Josh Addo-Carr, 6 Cameron Munster, 7 Ryley Jacks, 8 Jesse Bromwich, 9 Cameron Smith (c), 10 Nelson Asofa-Solomona, 11 Felise Kaufusi, 12 Ryan Hoffman, 13 Kenny Bromwich. Interchange: 14 Joe Stimson, 15 Tim Glasby, 16 Christian Welch, 17 Sam Kasiano
Knights: 1 Kalyn Ponga, 2 Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 3 Sione Mata’utia, 4 Nathan Ross, 5 Ken Sio, 6 Brock Lamb, 7 Mitchell Pearce (c), 8 Daniel Saifiti, 9 Slade Griffin, 10 Jacob Lillyman, 11 Lachlan Fitzgibbon, 12 Aidan Guerra, 13 Herman Ese’ese. Interchange: 14 Danny Levi, 15 Chris Heighington, 16 Jamie Buhrer (c), 17 Jacob Saifiti
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Friday 13th April
Venue: AAMI Park
WHO WILL WIN?