The Melbourne Storm take on the Cronulla Sharks at AAMI Park on Sunday afternoon as the Storm look to return to the top of the ladder.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
In a top of the table clash last week, the Storm were defeated by the Rabbitohs on the back of a starring performance from Damien Cook. The Storm had control of the match for the majority of the first half, holding a 16-6 lead at one point, but were run down by a strong attacking unit in the Rabbitohs. It’s unlike Melbourne to surrender such a strong lead, but it might be the wake up call they needed as they continue their hunt for back-to-back premierships.
The Sharks come into this match on the back of two straight losses, and another loss here would all but end their hopes of finishing in the top four. They were stunned last week, as the Sea Eagles beat them in a golden point thriller. Their defence, which has been rock solid for the majority of the year, was absent, as 32 points of their own was not enough to come away with the two points.
Suliasi Vunivalu returns on the wing as Cheyse Blair drops back to the reserves.
The Sharks are unchanged following their Round 21 loss to the Sea Eagles.
This is an extremely important match for both sides. A win for the Storm would take them to equal points with the Rabbitohs and Roosters, but they would jump to top spot thanks to their superior points difference. The Sharks need a win to still be a chance of finishing in the top four this season.
The two met back in Round 4, as the Sharks got the win in a penalty-fest in Cronulla. They did not allow a single try in that match, but Cronulla will need a much better defensive effort than what they produced a week ago. They let in a couple of soft tries in the loss against Manly, and they will need to tighten up their goal line defence against a dangerous side in the Storm.
The Storm aren’t a team to panic after a loss, and with experienced heads like Cameron Smith and Billy Slater there, as well as coach Craig Bellamy, they should be well prepared to bounce back. They aren’t a side that loses two games in a row, and with the halves pairing of Cameron Munster and Jahrome Hughes improving each week, they’re the team that no one wants to face.
Defence will play a key role in deciding the outcome of this match, but so will the match-up between Munster and Sharks five-eighth Matt Moylan. It took some time but Moylan has really started to find his feet at Cronulla and always looks incredibly dangerous in attack. Second-phase play is where he thrives, and if the Sharks can continue to produce offloads as they have done all year he can do some real damage.
It hasn’t taken long, but Munster has already established himself as one of the best players in the game. He was one of Queensland’s stars in the State of Origin series and he is one of the most dangerous ball runners in the competition. Whoever has the better game out of these two exciting young halves will go a long way to deciding the outcome.
The Storm are very tough to beat at home, particularly in important matches, as they are yet to lose to another top eight side at AAMI Park in 2018.
Melbourne Storm: 1 Billy Slater, 2 Suliasi Vunivalu, 3 Will Chambers, 4 Curtis Scott, 5 Josh Addo-Carr, 6 Cameron Munster, 7 Jahrome Hughes, 8 Jesse Bromwich, 9 Cameron Smith, 10 Nelson Asofa-Solomona, 11 Felise Kaufusi, 12 Ryan Hoffman, 13 Dale Finucane
Interchange: 14 Kenny Bromwich, 15 Tim Glasby, 16 Christian Welch, 17 Joe Stimson
Reserves: 18 Tui Kamikamica, 19 Brandon Smith, 20 Cheyse Blair, 21 Brodie Croft
Cronulla Sharks: 1 Valentine Holmes, 2 Josh Dugan, 3 Jesse Ramien, 4 Ricky Leutele, 5 Sione Katoa, 6 Matt Moylan, 7 Chad Townsend, 8 Andrew Fifita, 9 Jayden Brailey, 10 Matt Prior, 11 Luke Lewis, 12 Wade Graham, 13 Paul Gallen
Interchange: 14 Scott Sorensen, 15 James Segeyaro, 16 Aaron Woods, 17 Jason Bukuya
Reserves: 18 Joseph Paulo, 19 Ava Seumanufagai, 20 Sosaia Feki, 21 Kyle Flanagan
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Sunday 11 August
Venue: AAMI Park
Kick-off: 4:10pm AEDT
WHO WILL WIN?
It should be an exciting clash, but the Storm at home is just too difficult to bet against. You rarely see them lose two games in a row, and with top spot on the ladder there for the taking they should be too good.