Round 18: Sea Eagles v Storm preview
Rivals meet for the first time since heated brawl
With their season all but over, you would be forgiven for thinking that the Manly Sea Eagles had nothing but pride to play for on Saturday afternoon. However, there will be no lack of motivation for Trent Barrett's men as they look to claim their second win of the year over their fierce rivals the Melbourne Storm.
The last time these two sides met, Manly's dominant 24-4 win was overshadowed by an ugly brawl, which saw punches thrown and Melbourne's Curtis Scott sent off. While the Sea Eagles may have won the game, there is no doubt that they, and in particular Dylan Walker, will still want revenge against the Storm. Key to Manly's chances this week is the availability of Origin trio Jake and Tom Trbojevic and much-maligned halfback Daly Cherry-Evans.
The latter silenced his doubters with a brilliant display for the Maroons and will hope to transfer that confidence back into club land. The Sea Eagles' last-start win saw them trounce the highly-fancied Panthers 18-10. Therefore, it will be interesting to see whether the bye came at the wrong time for the men from the Northern Beaches as they look to start things where they left off a fortnight ago.
Meanwhile, Melbourne will be sweating on the health of Origin stars Billy Slater, Cameron Munster, Josh Addo-Carr, Will Chambers, Tim Glasby and Felise Kaufusi. The 2017 Premiers will be boosted by the return of prop Jesse Bromwich as they look to build on their 52-30 demolition of the Dragons last week.
While coach Craig Bellamy would have been impressed with the effort in attack, he certainly would have expected a lot better from his side in defence. It was only the fourth time that the Storm had conceded over 30 points in a game in the past four years.
Bellamy's side seem to finally have a strong hold on their position in the Top Four. However, this year's top eight is very congested and therefore any two points are incredibly valuable in the race for one of the spots near the top of the ladder.
Who to watch: All eyes will be on the halfbacks for the respective outfits this week.
Cherry-Evans was simply sensational for the Maroons on Wednesday night and could count himself unlucky for missing out on the man of the match award. DCE faced his share of critics after he was announced as Ben Hunt's replacement in the starting side, yet a stellar kicking game saw the halfback lead the Queenslanders around the park with purpose and control. This element of his game had been missing at times for the Sea Eagles, most notably in their heavy defeat to the Warriors, where Cherry-Evans constantly picked out opposition players when opting for long-range kicks. A stronger performance from him could see the Sea Eagles claim their second major scalp from just as many games.
Jahrome Hughes has enjoyed somewhat of a breakout year in 2018 and his performance against the Dragons last week showed just how dangerous he can be. Filling in at fullback for Slater, Hughes ran for 202 metres, scored a try, set up one and busted nine tackles in a brilliant attacking display. While both Brodie Croft and Ryley Jacks have shown glimpses of their potential, Hughes now has the chance to sew up the vacant position in the halves left by Cooper Cronk.
Tip: This will be a much closer contest than the last time these two sides met. You get the feeling that Melbourne hooker Cameron Smith may outclass rookie Manase Fainu and lead the Storm to a tight win. Melbourne by six.