Melbourne Storm host Cronulla Sharks in the Grand Final Qualifier at AAMI Park, Melbourne. In a replay of the 2016 NRL Grand Final there is no love lost between these two sides who genuinely hate each other.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
It’s been hard to get a read on the Storm’s form this year as they mixed winning streaks with shock losses throughout the entire season. Heading into the final few rounds of the year Melbourne lost three of their final five games which eventually cost them the minor premiership, but Craig Bellamy was able to get his side up for the big game that counted as they beat South Sydney in the first week of the finals to secure the priceless week off.
Cronulla were one of the more fancied sides heading into the finals coming off four straight wins to end the season, but they failed to take their chances against the Roosters in the first week of the finals which left them in a knockout match with Penrith. The Sharks put on a great display of how to play finals footy in the first half against the Panthers shooting to a big lead, but were lucky to hold off a fast finishing Penrith side to progress through to the preliminary final.
The Storm enjoyed resting up after securing the week off so their squad should be fit and raring to go this week. They also welcome back a couple of big name players with Will Chambers returning from his suspension and Big Nelson Asofa-Solomona also returning from injury.
Cronulla’s preparation has been the exact opposite of the Storm’s after losing week one of the finals they had to back up last week and have suffered some injury concerns. Captain Paul Gallen suffered a shoulder injury and is seen as a ’50/50′ chance of playing, whilst Luke Lewis also picked up a niggle against his former club. There is some good news though with Josh Dugan recovered from his injury that kept him out of last week.
The history of Rugby League is filled with plenty of feuds and rivalries that highlight the decades, in the 80’s it was the Eels and the Bulldogs, the 90’s Manly and Newcastle, throughout the early years of the new millennium the Roosters and Bulldogs, and Manly against Melbourne. But now it’s the bitter rivalry between Melbourne and Cronulla that is gaining momentum and building more hatred between the clubs.
Stemming from the 2016 Grand Final where the Sharks overcame the Storm, tension has always been high between these sides with tempers boiling over on a few occasions. Will Chambers and Paul Gallen simply don’t like each other and it usually doesn’t take long for them to start exchanging pleasantries on the field, expect another fiery chapter to be written between these two sides in a game that could end the career of a club legend on either side.
Legends of the game Luke Lewis and Billy Slater both announced earlier this year that season 2018 would be their last after 18 and 16 years respectively in the NRL. Both clubs will be wanting to send off their retiring champions with a Grand Final win but will know they have to keep their minds on this week’s match up with little separating the sides in recent times.
Since they met in the 2016 Grand Final Cronulla has had the wood over the Storm winning three of their past four meetings including their two encounters this year, for some reason the Sharks enjoy playing the Storm where most sides struggle against them. There have been many theories on why Cronulla trouble Melbourne so much, is it because they can get into the ‘arm wrestle’ with them? Or because they know how to ‘niggle’ the Storm play makers? Or maybe it’s because these sides know each other that well after facing off so often that frustrates Melbourne and gives the Sharks the edge?
It’s probably a mixture of all of those factors and after beating the Storm so often the Sharks know the formula to beating the Champion Storm side, they know they can match it with them in the forwards and they know all of Melbourne’s plays, so they’ll be looking to stay in the contest and once again frustrate the Storm into losing their way against their nemesis.
But Melbourne have the advantage of playing at home and having the week off to rest up their little niggling injuries whilst also having time to work on some new plays or tactics to surprise the Sharks. Melbourne have played in the preliminary finals for the past four years so they know how to handle the week off and week leading in, knowing the Sharks are bruised and battered they’ll be looking for a fast start to put the pressure on the Sharks.
Cronulla have won five of the past seven matches between the two sides.
Storm: 1. Billy Slater, 2. Suliasi Vunivalu, 3. Will Chambers, 4. Curtis Scott, 5. Josh Addo-Carr, 6. Cameron Munster, 7. Brodie Croft, 8. Jesse Bromwich, 9. Cameron Smith, 10. Tim Glasby, 11. Felise Kaufusi, 12. Joe Stimson, 13. Dale Finucane, 14. Kenny Bromwich, 15. Christian Welch, 16. Ryan Hoffman, 17. Nelson Asofa-Solomona, 18. Brandon Smith, 19. Jahrome Hughes, 20. Sam Kasiano, 21. Cheyse Blair
Sharks: 1. Valentine Holmes, 2. Sosaia Feki, 3. Jesse Ramien, 4. Ricky Leutele, 5. Edrick Lee, 6. Matt Moylan, 7. Chad Townsend, 8. Andrew Fifita, 9. Jayden Brailey, 10. Matt Prior, 11. Luke Lewis, 12. Kurt Capewell, 13. Paul Gallen, 14. Scott Sorensen, 15. James Segeyaro, 16. Aaron Woods, 17. Jayson Bukuya, 18. Josh Dugan, 19. Ava Seumanufagai, 20. Joseph Paulo, 21. Kyle Flanagan
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Friday 21st of September
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
WHO WILL WIN?
Despite the Sharks having the wood over the Storm in recent times I expect the week off and home field advantage to play a big factor in this match and in the end lead to a Storm victory. Storm 1-12