Round 19: Storm v Wests Tigers preview
It's been more of the same for the Melbourne Storm this season who once again are poised for a top two finish, their fifth successive season of doing so.
Craig Bellamy was unimpressed with his side's performance during the last 20 minutes against the North Queensland Cowboys on Sunday, despite winning by 16 points.
Melbourne ran in five tries in the opening 44 minutes as they led the Cowboys by 26 points before taking their foot off the pedal allowing the Cowboys to score three tries in the final 20 minutes.
It's been a brilliant year for the Storm thus far, having won 11 of their last 12 matches despite minor injuries along the way to key players which speaks volumes about the system that Bellamy has produced down in Melbourne.
Their attack is flowing unbelievably well as Bellamy chases his third legal premiership,
with his side having failed to score under 20 points just once in their past 12 matches, when they were held scoreless by the Parramatta Eels in round 15.
Former Tiger, Ryan Papenhuyzen has not been included in the side again this week whilst Christian Welch returns at prop, shifting Nelson Asofa-Solomona to lock and Tino Fa'asumaleaui to the bench as Darryn Schonig drops out of the side. Brandon Smith has been named in the reserves and could be a chance to play
Michael Maguire is still waiting for his side to string together a full 80-minute performance after they suffered their sixth loss from their past eight matches.
Defence has been a big issue for the Tigers for the majority of the season as their streak of conceding 20 points or more continued on Thursday to eight matches and coming up against a Storm side that has scored 20 points or more in 11 of their past 12 matches, isn't exactly music to the ears of Tigers' fans.
It's going to be an extremely tough ask for the Tigers defence this weekend as they're tasked with trying to defend the likes of Asofa-Solomona, Cameron Munster, Tino Fa'asuamaleaui and the rest.
Josh Reynolds comes into the halves for the suspended Brooks. Joey Leilua replaces Tommy Talau in the centres with Sam McIntrye coming into the starting 13 at the expense of Luke Garner. Russell Packer and Zane Musgrove replace Eljiah Taylor and Jacob Liddle who drop out of the side.
Last meeting: Round 10 2019 - Storm 24 Wests Tigers 22
Who to watch: A mouth-watering clash at the hooker position will light up your television screens on Saturday with a master versus apprentice storyline as Cameron Smith takes on Storm loanee Harry Grant. First, the master, Cameron Smith has had another outstanding year for the Storm and is showing absolutely no signs that he is one of the oldest players in the competition. Smith has provided his side with 14 try assists, just one less than last season despite playing 12 less games. He is also responsible for eight goal line dropouts and 37 tackles per match as the former Australian captain shows no signs of slowing down. His work around the ruck is still superb and shows that he is still one of the best, if not the best hooker in the game.
His apprentice, Harry Grant has shown more signs than one that he was an observant understudy to Smith during his time as hooker for the Sunshine Coast Falcons. Grant has burst onto the scene this season for the Tigers with his brilliant running game and his extraordinary sleight of hand from dummy-half which can only be taught by one man. The rookie has assisted five tries this season, scoring three himself and has been the heartbeat of the Tigers attack. His work rate is no slouch either, averaging 89 run metres out of dummy-half and making 49 tackles per game. It's going to be a great individual battle to watch, but an increasingly sad one for Tigers' fans who only have two weeks left of watching this little master wear the orange, black and white.
The favourite: The Melbourne Storm are favourites for this clash having been one of the best sides in the competition this season. They have only lost to teams in the top five this season and they will be expecting to walk over the Tigers on Saturday evening. But the Tigers do have the wood over the Storm in their past three clashes. All three matches have been decided by two points of less with the Tigers walking away as victors in two of those clashes.
My tip: Melbourne should comfortably get home in this one. They come up against a defence that has leaked points this season and the Storm have scored the third most points this season. The Tigers have shown that they can score points a flurry, but their defence has continuously let them down this season. Storm by 20.