Round 15: Melbourne v Wests Tigers preview
Storm chase an unbroken dozen against the enigmatic Tigers
Last week's runaway victory over the Warriors was enough for Melbourne to edge past the Penrith Panthers at the top of the competition table.
While Ivan Cleary has nursed his stars through the Origin period, Craig Bellamy has kept the pedal on the floor amid an 11 game winning streak.
And with a host of Melbourne based Queenslanders still burning after last week's Blues onslaught, you can be sure the evolving Tigers will need to bring their best defence.
Still only two points clear of the fourth placed Rabbitohs, there is a sense Bellamy's strategy is to show the struggling teams no remorse in an attempt to skyrocket his side's for-and-against. So far this season, the premiers have scored an average of 39 points per match in their nine victories against sides placed outside the current top-six.
Even with Cameron Munster below his best and Ryan Papenhuyzen sidelined, the Storm haven't skipped a beat thanks to an endless supply of strike power fronted by Brandon Smith and the Cronulla bound Nicho Hynes.
Whether the Tigers have the firepower to combat Bellamy's purple haze remains to be seen. But to have any chance, they'll need to improve on last week's disjointed effort against the Eels at Bankwest Stadium.
Even though Parramatta used a one man advantage to blow Wests away after the break, the fact is, with only a 30 per cent share of first half possession the Tigers were always chasing their tail.
This week Maguire will bank on the return of Moses Mbye to stabilise the Tigers' halves. But any gain there is offset by the loss of the injured Adam Doueihi in a move that sees James Roberts shift off the wing to his more favoured position at centre.
In another quirk in a season of many, new Tigers winger Ken Maumalo will tackle the Storm for the second time within seven days. Fresh after scoring a hat-trick of tries in his Warriors swansong, a repeat performance will go a long way to securing the Tigers a fourth win from their last six starts.
Last meeting: Round 19 2020 - Storm 50 Wests Tigers 22
Who to watch: With Harry Grant's return to Melbourne, all the talk at the start of the season was about an oversupply of No.9s. Now in tandem with the versatile Brandon Smith, Craig Bellamy has added to the Storm's potency. Having already crossed for seven tries this season, the affable Kiwi is now on a run of six from as many games where his wombat-like burrowing outside of Grant has proved unstoppable.
Jacob Liddle has no trouble crossing the stripe either. Having been forced to fight for his spot in Wests' lineup since 2016, the nippy hooker's speed has taken him across the line five times this season. Now injury free and with over 50 top grade appearances, Michael Maguire has seen enough to keep him on the books until at least the end of the 2023 season.
The favourite: Yet to taste defeat on the Sunshine Coast, Melbourne are short priced favourites to make it eight straight at their home away from home.
My tip: Apart from their upset victory over the undermanned Panthers two weeks ago, the Tigers have been torched by an average margin of 22 points in their five other clashes against top-6 opponents. Melbourne by 22.