GRAND FINAL DAY LOCKED IN | Three big fixtures next Sunday at Sydney's ANZ Stadium! Burleigh and Ill...
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Do you know that this Friday night is the first time pretty much all year that two teams in the top four - that are not feeling the direct effects of the State Of Origin - go head to head? Can you believe that? Can you believe that most of the time in this column I've written about teams who have lost more than they've won rather than the other way around? Is there anything wrong with this picture?
I thought Friday night footy was supposed to be the matches of the round. We're lucky to see two (at the most!) teams in the top eight do battle on a Friday, but it's hardly ever against each other. So the fact that Melbourne, the leaders of the pack, and the Broncos are going up against each other tonight has my blood pumping.
Throw an ever-improving Parramatta side taking on bitter foes the Bulldogs - who are starting to take on a slightly different shape under new coach Jim Dymock - and you have an entertaining night from start to finish.
MELBOURNE STORM VS BRISBANE BRONCOS
The Melbourne Storm just keep doing their thing, don't they? They've strung together seven straight victories, but they've been against sides like the Raiders, Bulldogs, Warriors, Tigers, Roosters, Rabbitohs and Sharks. However, not one of these teams was setting the NRL alight when the Storm came up against them.
The Broncos are going to be the Storm's first big challenge in the run into the finals. Darren Lockyer's men proved last week that even when they're having an off day they are still able to graft out a win.
Their first half against the Titans was disappointing, but they were able to eventually cruise home against the cellar dwellers. But if they put in another first-half display like that against the Storm, they're going to find it a lot harder to fight back into the contest.
For the Broncos, shutting down the Storm begins with captain Cameron Smith. He controls the tempo of the game out of dummy-half, and his performance dictates the Storm's yardage game. It is when they are on the front foot that Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater come into their own. This is where the Broncos' top-shelf defence is going to be vital.
The Storm doesn't need to change too much. They are clinical in their execution and masters at frustrating their opponents out of the contest. This game will be an arm wrestle, and there is no doubt that both teams will relish it.
PARRAMATTA EELS VS CANTERBURY BULLDOGS
The last time these two teams met, Jarryd Hayne got suspended for head butting, Nathan Hindmarsh was sin binned for fighting and the Eels blew a 14 point lead and lost to the Bulldogs.
Back in round six, the Bulldogs were the team with all the form and the Eels were floundering.
Fast-forward to the present and while the Eels might not be very high on the ladder, they've finally found combinations on the field that seem to be working.
The Bulldogs on the other hand have seen their season become disappointing with each and every round. Last week Kevin Moore resigned as coach, and it has now been confirmed that Michael Ennis will miss the rest of the season with a neck injury.
Now after a week in the position, we will start to see what style of football Jim Dymock wants the Bulldogs to play under him. Until they get some confidence back in their game, expect to see them build off basic structures.
Besides the fact that they lost to Penrith in golden point last week, the Eels are looking like a much better team with Jarryd Hayne moved up to five-eighth. It'll be the third week in a row that Hayne and Casey McGuire have been partnered in the halves, and the team as a whole will be much better for it.
This game might be the more expansive of the two tonight. Both teams are getting to the point in their season where they either start rolling the dice or start planning their end of year trip away early.
It's all or nothing for the Eels and the Bulldogs and sometimes the best football to watch is when a team has nothing to lose.