Round 25: Storm v Cowboys preview
The minor premiership is wrapped up for the Storm, the chance of a top 8 finish is gone for the Cowboys so ultimately Friday night's clash between the two sides is all about a warm-up for the finals for Melbourne, and nothing but pride for the Cowboys.
Melbourne have secured the minor premiership but will be looking to making a big statement when it comes to the eve of the finals, and this is the perfect opportunity to do so. Last weekend, they were dominant against the Manly Sea Eagles at Lottoland, running out 36-6 victors. The performance was a big improvement on their scrappy showings of the weeks before - particularly their effort against the last-placed Titans where they only won 24-8 in a match many expected them to uttely dominate.
2019 has been a typically good season for the Storm, with 20 victories so far this season and just 4 losses, which all came in close fashion with the biggest margin being just four points. The men from the southern state have had the best defence in the league, conceding just 284 points throughout the season with 607 points scored - a positive 323 points differential.
North Queensland have had a rocky season and will look to pull off one of the upsets of the year in the final round. The Cowboys have struggled without the influence of Johnathan Thurston and injuries have put some hefty speedbumps in the way of consistency this year. The Cowboys come into the final round off back-to-back victories where they were impressive against the Panthers, but then had to fight hard to beat the Bulldogs last Thursday night.
The visitors head into the final round sitting in 12th spot on the NRL ladder and if they can pull off the upset, they could finish in as high as 10th spot - but could also slip to 14th if they lose and other results go the wrong way. The North Queenslanders have struggled for points this season sitting in 13th in attack - just 362 points across their 24 games so far. This has been down to a lack of consistency but also some red-zone struggles with the ball.
Last meeting: Round 5 2019 - Cowboys 12 Storm 18
Who to watch: Young fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen has made an immediate impact since making his NRL debut and has quickly become one of the excitement machines of the NRL. Although 'Paps' isn't the biggest of players, he possesses strength and speed which he has shown coming through the grades, but now as a part of the Melbourne side, he has become an attacking weapon.
Cowboys captain Michael Morgan has had to take the reins this season after JT's 2018 departure, but a series of concussions has meant that the five-eighth hasn't been able to have consistent time on the - not exactly helpful to an already weakened Cowboys spine. Morgan will be looking to make a good impression and show that he can lead the Cowboys next season as well.
The favourite: Despite having a couple of players rested, the Storm go into the match as heavy favourites which is unsurprising given their respective ladder positions as well the form and recent meetings between the two sides.
My tip: Craig Bellamy will be wanting Melbourne to make a big performance leading into the finals and they will be looking to do just that, their performance against Manly last week was superb and there was very little to question whether they will win this weekend. The Cowboys have struggled to find form and points this season and going to Melbourne won't help them. Storm by 10.