Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
2 days ago
A month or so earlier, Melbourne taking on Newcastle would be walkover but the last three weeks has shown that the Novacastrians won't be a pushover - especially in the sunshine at home.
Four out of five of the Knights wins this year have come at home - the only away delight was a fortnight ago against the Eels - so they come into this weekend full of confidence as the home side continue to attempt to play spoiler for the sides coming into the finals.
Melbourne are in pole position headed into the last month of football. They only need one more victory to add a third minor premiership to their trophy cabinet. This last section of the season is also where coach Craig Bellamy starts to give his stars a rest indicated by Cooper Cronk not making the trip to face the last place Knights.
The Storm possess the best winger duo in the NRL in Suliasi Vunivalu and Josh Addo-Car. Between the two they have 34 tries in about 20 games this season - making them a dangerous prospect for the Knights to combat not to mention Vunivalu's hurdling ability to get over defenders. Jahrome Hughes job will be to feed the two talented wingers and possibly glide to the minor premiership.
Who to watch: The ending of the Bulldogs game back in Round 18 could have been downfall of young half Brock Lamb - first he piloted a kick right into a Bulldog for a runaway try added to shanked penalty goal after the siren to tie the game is enough to destroy the confidence of any young player.
Credit to Lamb though, he has taken that in his stride and come out the other side, much better. He has started to take the dominant role in his halves pairing with Trent Hodkinson and face a stern test against the Storm but if he can continue his form, the home side could produce an upset.
Melbourne announced that Cooper Cronk will miss the trip to the Hunter so Jahrome Hughes steps into his jersey. The half has played during origin this season so is familiar with the system but if Hughes can link up with the backline including power and pace (Vunivalu and Addo-Car) might blow away the Knights in the early stages.
1. Dane Gagai 2. Ken Sio 3. Joe Wardle 4. Peter Mata'utia 5. Shaun Kenny-dowall 6. Brock Lamb 7. Trent Hodkinson 8. Daniel Saifiti 9. Jamie Buhrer 10. Josh King 11. Sione Mata'utia 12. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 13. Mitchell Barnett 14. Danny Levi 15. Luke Yates 16. Sam Stone 17. Jacob Saifiti
1. Billy Slater 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 3. William Chambers 4. Curtis Scott 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Cameron Munster 19. Brodie Croft 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Cameron Smith 10. Jordan McLean 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Joe Stimson 13. Dale Finucane 14. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 16. Kenneath Bromwich 17. Slade Griffin 18. Tohu Harris