With one team determined to honour their marvellous captain with a victory and the other eagerly seeking to halt their losing streak, Saturday evening’s battle between the Melbourne Storm and Cronulla Sharks is set to be a blockbuster.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
It has been a terrific start to 2019 for the Storm, who currently sit six points clear of the second placed Sydney Roosters. To extend their winning streak beyond seven games, the Storm simply have to replicate the performances exhibited in the past two months. With their beloved captain Cameron Smith set to make his 400th NRL appearance, there is certainly plenty to play for and the Storm will no doubt be determined to reign victorious against their Sutherland Shire counterparts on this occasion.
Sitting just within the top eight on 16 competition points, it is anticipated that the Sharks will be ready to attack and record a win for the first time in a month. Although Wade Graham’s return from Origin is expected to bolster the line-up, the Sharks’ spine must be cohesive if they are to challenge Melbourne’s rigid defensive line.
The return of Origin stars Josh Addo-Carr, Will Chambers, Cameron Munster, Felise Kaufusi, Christian Welch and Dale Finucane force the omission of Justin Olam, Sandor Earl, Billy Walters, Albert Vete and Tui Kamikamica. Additionally, Joe Stimson and Brandon Smith have been relegated to the interchange bench.
Melbourne Storm squad: 1 Jahrome Hughes, 2 Suliasi Vunivalu, 3 Will Chambers, 4 Marion Seve, 5 Josh Addo-Carr, 6 Cameron Munster, 7 Brodie Croft, 8 Jesse Bromwich, 9 Cameron Smith, 10 Nelson Asofa-Solomona, 11 Felise Kaufusi, 12 Kenneath Bromwich, 13 Dale Finucane. Interchange: 14 Brandon Smith, 15 Christian Welch, 16 Joe Stimson, 17 Ryan Papenhuyzen. Reserves: 18 Justin Olam, 19 Tino Faasuamaleaui, 20 Tui Kamikamica, 21 Sandor Earl, 22 Tom Eisenhuth, 23 Solomone Kata.
Whilst the spine remains in-tact, the Sharks have made a host of changes to their forward pack. A returning Andrew Fifita (suspension) pushes Aaron Woods to the interchange bench. An injured Paul Gallen has been replaced by Jack Williams, while Josh Dugan and Josh Morris switch to centre and wing respectively.
Cronulla Sharks squad: 1 Matt Moylan, 2 Sosaia Feki, 3 Bronson Xerri, 4 Josh Dugan, 5 Josh Morris, 6 Shaun Johnson, 7 Chad Townsend, 8 Andrew Fifita, 9 Jayden Brailey, 10 Matt Prior, 11 Briton Nikora, 12 Wade Graham, 13 Jack Williams. Interchange: 14 Kurt Capewell, 15 Jayson Bukuya, 16 Aaron Woods, 17 Braden Hamlin-Uele. Reserves: 18 Billy Magoulias, 19 Kyle Flanagan, 20 Aaron Gray, 21 Blayke Brailey.
HEAD TO HEAD
The rivalry between these two teams has been bourgeoning ever since the Sharks’ narrow victory against the Storm in the 2016 Grand Final. With a field goal the difference in three of their past six clashes, both teams will have to be on-song if they wish to prevail.
Becoming the first NRL player ever to reach the milestone of 400 games, captain Cameron Smith’s remarkable feat deserves to be celebrated in style. For this to occur, the Storm must make it their intent to restrict the Sharks’ go forward and tendency to produce game-breaking offloads. Keeping the Sharks within their own half will give them the best opportunity to force errors and gain valuable field position. Remaining wary of quick ruck speed will limit the Sharks’ attacking prowess and number of points scored. Deft kicking and passing are required if the Storm is to penetrate and disorientate the Sharks’ line.
For the Sharks, it is a matter of finding a way to stop their Melbourne rivals. Starting with vigour and completing their sets early in the match will give them the best chance of weathering the Storm. If Andrew Fifita and Matt Prior can utilise their footwork and quick hands, the Sharks will be able to showcase what they do best – off-the-cuff football. Mounting pressure and points on the Storm before they can provide a response is vital if the Sharks are to spoil the milestone. Targeting young halves Cameron Munster and Brodie Croft may also assist the Sharks in their pursuit of victory.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Saturday 13 July 2019
Venue: AAMI Park
Kick-off: 7:35pm (AEST
WHO WILL WIN?
Given the inconsistency shown by the Sharks over the past few weeks, it is hard to foresee the Storm exiting AAMI Park with anything but a victory.
Storm by 18