Round 9: South Sydney v Melbourne preview
The South Sydney Rabbitohs will be without Adam Reynolds, Cameron Murray, Campbell Graham and Jaxson Paulo who will all miss a few weeks with their respective injuries. It's hardly a good time for this to occur as the Rabbitohs take on Melbourne, Penrith and Parramatta over the course of the next four weeks.
The Rabbitohs, having just knocked off the Raiders by 14-points, will be looking to bring some of their recent form into this fixture which has seen them win every match since they lost to Melbourne in the opening game of the season. Although, it's worrying for the Rabbitohs that they've conceded 50 points over the past two weekends and that's something that can't continue this weekend. They have managed to outscore their two previous opponents but that'll be a hard task to accomplish against Melbourne, especially if they cough up 20+ points as they did in Round one this year. The Rabbitohs still boast Cody Walker, Benji Marshall and Damien Cook, so there is still the chance that they're able to score points, but it's going to be difficult against this Melbourne side.
The aforementioned injuries have forced a backline restructure which sees Alex Johnston move into the fullback role, with Walker shifting back into the halves with Marshall. Braidon Burns returns from injury in Graham's place and Steven Marsters and Taane Milne will start on the wing. Jai Arrow starts at lock for Murray and Tevita Tatola reclaims his spot in the front row.
The Melbourne Storm have been on fire as of late, scoring at least 40 or more points in three of their past four matches. It was a convincing second half display against the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks on Friday evening which saw the defending premiers pile on 34 points in the final 40 minutes. Harry Grant's inclusion to the side has been immense and the 23-year-old hooker has been dominant in his performances this year especially with star fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen's absence over the past two weeks.
Craig Bellamy's side have once again asserted themselves as premiership contenders despite it being the club's first season since 2002 without future immortal Cameron Smith in the side each week. Players such as Cameron Munster, Papenhuyzen, Grant and Jahrome Hughes have all stepped up to the plate in Smith's absence and they have continued to grow over the start of the season.
Hughes in particular has been in immense form as of late, having score three tries and assisting a further five in his last four appearances. The New Zealand international was immense in Melbourne's 22-point victory over the Warriors on ANZAC Day with four try assists. Hughes will suit up in jersey number seven once again and the Storm will be graced with the return of Nelson Asofa-Solomona and George Jennings, who replace Chris Smith and Dean Ieremia from last week's side.
Who to watch: Thursday night's matchup to watch is the battle between the incumbent State of Origin number nine's. New South Wales' Damien Cook lines up against Queensland's Harry Grant in what is set to be an exciting matchup. Cook's 2021 season has been off to a slow start by his standards, running for only 69 run metres per game, his lowest metres per game average since 2017 and has only recorded two try assists in his eight appearances. Meanwhile, his opposite number has been on fire this season and in his four appearances has assisted four tries whilst running for 88 metres per game, also in limited game time. Grant will start in only his second game of the season this Thursday night after missing the first few weeks with a knee injury, but it's hardly hampered one of the game's top players. 21 NRL matches, is all Grant has to his name but he's playing much like a player who's played upwards of 100. Grant's been very impressive this season and this is the perfect opportunity for Damien Cook to respond to his critics with a superb performance right when his side needs it.
The favourite: Melbourne are the favourites heading into this clash with the injury ravaged Rabbitohs. History is also on Melbourne's side having won the past five matches between the two sides and winning 10 of the past 11 matches between the two. Souths' have only managed to beat the Storm in five of the 35 matches the two clubs have played against each other.
My tip: Melbourne are very hard to go past given the form they're in and the state of the injured Rabbitohs side that has been named. Souths' haven't lost since Round one but I think this will change after this Thursday night. Melbourne just too good. Melbourne by 14.