Round 23: Storm v Eels preview
Storm look to keep minor premiership hopes alive against rejuvenated Eels
What only weeks ago looked like a clear-cut result instead now shapes as one of the most intriguing clashes of Round 23 action.
A month ago, almost everyone was in agreeance. Melbourne were certainties to hold top spot at the end of the year and would be the first side to claim back-to-back premierships since the Broncos of 1992-93. They'd just won their eighth-straight game, this time a 44-10 drubbing of the Raiders, and they looked unstoppable.
However, back-to-back losses to the Rabbitohs and Sharks have thrown serious question marks over whether they can actually maintain their form heading towards September. With Ryan Hoffman likely out for the season, the Storm have lost of their most experienced campaigners. And suddenly, a loss to Parramatta on Friday night could see Melbourne's top four hopes placed under serious threat.
A sloppy effort in attack saw the Storm go down to fierce rivals Cronulla last week and prompted coach Craig Bellamy to question whether his side were serious about being premiership contenders in 2018. Usually we'd expect a statement from the men in purple, but it doesn't seem that straight forward anymore. Particularly when you take into consideration the form of their opposition this week.
As the Storm looked destined for the minor premiership, the Eels appeared certainties to collect the wooden spoon this season.
While they are most definitely still a chance of taking out the dreaded kitchen utensil, two-straight wins over the Titans and Dragons have seen them climb out of last position for the first time this year. Their form hasn't actually been that bad in the past two months, given that their only losses were to the Dragons, Knights and Rabbitohs by a combined total of ten points. Last week, on the back of a 93% completion rate, Parramatta stormed to a 40-4 win over St. George Illawarra.
Despite being on opposite ends of the ladder, Friday night's game will be closer than many suggest.
Who to watch: Melbourne have a clear advantage this week in one important position - hooker. This week, 378-game mastermind Cameron Smith comes up against rookie Reed Mahoney, who has only played one full game of first grade. Smith has both the experience and footy brains to lead the Melbourne side to victory. Parramatta were impressive last week but the Dragons didn't provide much resistance. If Smith controls the contest from the outset, he may just frustrate the Eels into defeat.
Meanwhile, Mitch Moses was at his absolute best last week, destroying the Dragons. The Parramatta five-eighth scored a try, set up four and ran for 106 metres in a stunning display. Evidently it would be hard for the 23-year-old to emulate those sorts of performances every week, but against one of the best defensive sides in the competition, Moses needs to step up.