It’s Grand Final qualifier week with three Sydney teams and one from Melbourne in the mix to win the premiership. Here’s our predictions.
Melbourne Storm vs Cronulla Sharks
Overall: Melbourne 22 wins, Cronulla 14 wins
Last Five: Cronulla 4 wins, Melbourne 1 win
This game is a tale of redemption for the Storm as they take on the Sharks who have had the Storm’s measure this season, just like they did in the 2016 grand final.
Of their two meetings in 2018, the Sharks prevailed 14-4 at home in round four before claiming an equally gritty 17-14 victory in Melbourne in round 22.
Melbourne are expected to be at full strength, while the Sharks will be without Wade Graham (knee injury) and are sweating on the fitness of veteran back-rowers Paul Gallen and Luke Lewis after both picked up injuries against the Panthers. This will add to the task ahead for the Cronulla side.
Key match-up: Billy Slater might be the greatest fullback of all time but he hasn’t been the standout No.1 in 2018. While Slater has had his usual moments of brilliance, Valentine Holmes has played more games and barely put a foot wrong being regarded as the current form player of the competition. Here’s hoping the former Queensland Origin teammates put on an exciting show that really is a clear display of everything great in this game.
For the Storm to win: The forwards need to hold their own against the workmanlike Cronulla pack, while Cameron Smith will have to add to the legend with a dominant display and ensure he has his goal-kicking boots on.
For the Sharks to win: Cronulla know what they will get from their forwards and the likes of Holmes, but halves Chad Townsend and Matt Moylan need to have their combination firing to get the win here.
Storm Stat Attack: Melbourne kicked more goals than any team during the 25-round regular season, with Cam Smith knocking over 84 to be third behind Jamayne Isaako and Gareth Widdop.
Sharks Stat Attack: Valentine Holmes has made more line breaks (25) than anybody else in the NRL in 2018 and scored 21 tries.
PREDICTION: The week off will be huge for the Storm and allow them to freshen up here. With Cronulla undermanned with Gallen in doubt and Graham out the task should be too great for them to take this. Storm by 8+