While the 2018 #NRL Pre-Season is still a few weeks away, there's a bunch of warm-up clashes happeni...
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Will the Knights pull off the biggest upset of the season or will Melbourne's Origin contingent put Wednesday night's loss behind them and lead their side to victory?
The Storm will be sweating on the fitness of Origin stars Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Will Chambers as they attempt to consolidate their spot atop of the ladder on Friday night. You would think that Craig Bellamy would not allow his side to be complacent as they take on the 16th placed Knights after witnessing his side suffer a 38-36 loss to the Titans only three weeks ago. Along with their Origin representatives (who have been named to back up from Wednesday night's Origin opener), Melbourne are also set to welcome back prop Jesse Bromwich from a two-game suspension. With so much disruption, Bellamy would have been glad that his side were gifted with their first Bye Round of the season and will hope they can refocus on adding to their impressive 9-2 record to start the year.
In comparison, Newcastle enter Round 13 with a 2-9 record. Granted it is better than their 2016 record, yet coach Nathan Brown would still have been disappointed with his troops' start to the year, considering that their fans have had to endure two straight Wooden Spoon finishes in 2015 and 2016. In saying this, no one can knock their effort, yet even that was lacking in their 2nd half performance against Penrith a fortnight ago. After shooting out to a 14-0 lead, the inexperience of Brown's men shone as they collapsed to a 30-20 defeat. This would have been of particular concern seeing that his side now face one of the most experienced and clinical teams in the competition in Melbourne, who boast the second best defence in the competition. Newcastle's only Origin representative, the South Sydney bound Dane Gagai, has also been named to start in Friday night's clash.
Melbourne just got home in both clashes last year by four points, winning their most recent clash in Newcastle 20-16.
Who to watch: After missing out on an Origin jersey, look out for the performance of experienced fullback Billy Slater. Despite a substantial injury lay-off, Slater has kicked off his 2017 campaign in style. Slater leads the Storm for both try-assists and tackle busts whilst also ranking highly in terms of tries scored and line breaks. His support play in the middle of the field could also pose a danger once Newcastle's big men tire.
21 year-old Daniel Saifiti signalled his immense potential in his performance against Penrith a fortnight ago. The 125-kilogram prop barged over for a try, made a line break and ran 107 metres in an impressive 55-minute stint. A similar output on Friday night will certainly help his side's attempt to outdo a clinical Storm outfit.
My tip: This could be a lot closer than expected. Much will depend on the availability of Melbourne's Origin contingent. Look for another brave performance from the Knights but it will not be enough. Storm by 8.
1. Billy Slater 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 3. William Chambers 4. Cheyse Blair 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Cameron Munster 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Jesse Bromwich 19. Slade Griffin 10. Tim Glasby 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Tohu Harris 13. Dale Finucane 14. Jordan McLean 15. Brandon Smith 16. Kenneath Bromwich 17. Nelson Asofa-Solomona
1. Dane Gagai 2. Ken Sio 3. Joe Wardle 4. Peter Mata'utia 5. Nathan Ross 6. Brock Lamb 7. Jaelen Feeney 8. Daniel Saifiti 9. Danny Levi 10. Josh Starling 11. Sione Mata'utia 21. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 13. Luke Yates 14. Sam Stone 12. Mitchell Barnett 16. Tyler Randell 17. Jacob Saifiti