Round 14: Storm v Knights preview
Will it be 7th Heaven for Pearce and Newcastle, or will they be saying Good-Knight to their winning streak?
Flash back to six weeks ago. Newcastle were languishing with a 1-5 record having been thrashed by the Gold Coast Titans, Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga as a halves combination were not firing, and Nathan Brown's future was not looking to be long or bright. An upset win the following week over the Eels - who had just put 50 on the Wests Tigers - and the rest, as they say, is history!
For Melbourne, the story is much the same as the last few years, solid - if nothing special - football (well, aside from taking Magic Round quite literally and adding to the Eels' misery) netting them a series of wins or close fought losses. Yes - maybe a few more close results than the last few years - but they just keep finding a way.
In what is one of the two games of the round there is much more than two competition points on offer. What better way for Pearce to remove all doubt as to his readiness for a return to the Origin arena than by guiding his side to a win over Maroons stalwarts Cameron Munster, Will Chambers and Felise Kaufusi, as well as former Maroons legend Cameron Smith. If ever there were a game to exorcise the demons of Origin series' past, then this is it.
The opportunity for the Storm to maintain first place on the ladder and push on towards securing an all-important top-two finish to the season is on the table. Throw in a chance for Jahrome Hughes to push for a place in the New Zealand test team and young Ryan
Paperhouses Papenhuyzen to unseat the aforementioned Hughes at fullback (assuming Brodie Croft is ruled out with concussion).
Melbourne continued their recent dominance over the Knights with a win in Newcastle. Cameron Smith scored 12 of the his side's 28 points off his left boot to help a then-'Slaterless' Storm to an important Origin-period victory.
Who to watch: For the Knights it's all about the 2 P's - Ponga and Pearce. In these two players they have genuine superstars, and their best chance to record a seventh straight win. Pearce also has the opportunity to add a seventh consecutive man of the match award to his list of accolades - which would be some feat! For the Storm it's the usual suspects, Munster, Smith and Josh Addo Carr, however the absence of Newcastle enforcer David Klemmer could prove telling, with a big showing from either Jesse Bromwich or Nelson Asofa-Solomona - either of whom could lay the ideal platform for a win over the red hot Knights.
The favourite: A full-strength Melbourne at home, versus an opponent they have a recent record of dominance over are too hard to go past. However, this will be much closer than many recent meetings have been.