The NSW Blues have been named for the first game of the 2017 #Origin series.
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The grand final re-match is upon us folks with the undefeated Melbourne Storm taking on the visiting Cronulla Sharks.
The Storm have been red hot at times this year and once again will be talked about as a premiership favourite throughout the year. With no losses to their name this season, they've taken control of just about every contest across the opening five weeks of 2017 and will be hoping this one is no different.
Cronulla on the otherhand have had a disjointed start to the season with some less than impressive performances, but still sit in the top eight with three wins from five starts. They will be concerned if they can't get the choccies here though, as they'll sink to a 3-3 record.
Having said that, both these sides put together a cracking grand final in October and don't be surprised to see a similar style of game with both sides attempting to grind out a win based on defence.
The Sharks won the most important match against the Storm by taking out the Grand Final last season. Apart from that victory however (and a slender 14-6 win at home against the Storm in early 2016) the head-to-head record doesn't make for good reading for the Sharks. They were beaten 26-6 at AAMI Park last season in the battle for the minor premiership, and have never won at the ground since the Storm moved from Olympic Park. Melbourne have won six of the last eight games against the Sharks.
Who to watch: Look for Cooper Cronk to have a standout game after announcing that 2017 will be his last season as a Melbourne player. Cronk has made the decision to move to Sydney for the reason of love, but knows there is still a lot of time for him to work his magic with the Storm in 2017.
The Sharks' defence has been shaky and in recent weeks Cronk has improved his combination with youngster Ryley Jacks. Look for his attacking kicks close to the line to catch the Sharks back three unawares and test them in the air. Cronk is invaluable to the Storm and his performance will dictate how it plays on Sunday.
The Sharks struggled mightily against the Knights last week in a soft performance but coach Shane Flanagan would have been impressed with the effort of Valentine Holmes. Playing in the fullback role after shrugging off pre-season injuries, Holmes was at his devastating best, showcasing his speed, skills and passing to bamboozle the Knights. He'll need to do that again on Sunday as the Storm will look to pepper him with high balls and put pressure on him at the back. If Holmes can withstand that and run off his forwards, he will get opportunities to wreak havoc around the ruck.
My tip: although an upset is not out of the question, I believe Melbourne will be up for this clash and will want to extract revenge for last year's Grand Final loss. They have looked very good so far in season 2017 and don't expect that to change. Storm by 6.
1. Billy Slater 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 3. William Chambers 18. Young Tonumaipea 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Ryley Jacks 7. Cooper Cronk 15. Tim Glasby 9. Cameron Smith 10. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Kenneath Bromwich 13. Dale Finucane 14. Joe Stimson 16. Mark Nicholls 21. Jordan McLean 20. Christian Welch
1. Valentine Holmes 2. Sosaia Feki 3. Jack Bird 4. Ricky Leutele 5. Gerard Beale 6. James Maloney 7. Chad Townsend 8. Andrew Fifita 9. Jayden Brailey 10. Matt Prior 11. Luke Lewis 12. Wade Graham 13. Paul Gallen 14. Jayson Bukuya 15. Chris Heighington 16. Jeremy Latimore 17. James Segeyaro