Round 18: Storm v Eels preview - 2017 Round 18
Eels given perfect chance to cement spot in Top Eight against undermanned Storm
Despite missing a series of key players through Origin duty, the Storm will come into Saturday night's clash full of confidence for a number of reasons. Firstly, Craig Bellamy's side are coming off a comprehensive 42-12 win over the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium last Friday night. In addition, when without their Origin stars, Melbourne have been highly impressive, claiming a one-point win over the Cowboys before suffering a loss by the same margin to the Roosters the following week. However, it will be an even tougher prospect this week with in-form five-eighth Cameron Munster also chosen for his State of Origin debut. He will line up alongside Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk, Will Chambers and Tim Glasby in the Queensland side. As a result, Ryley Jacks, Brodie Croft, Jahrome Hughes, Curtis Scott and Mark Nicholls are all given another chance to impress while Nelson Asofa-Solomona moves from the bench to the starting line-up to replace Glasby.
Meanwhile, the Eels have no such concerns and Brad Arthur has had the luxury of naming the same seventeen that downed the Bulldogs 13-12 in Golden Point last week. The victory saw the Eels push four points ahead of the 9th placed Panthers and a win this week would be a massive boost seeing that Parramatta still have a bye still up their sleeve. However, the men in the Blue and Gold have only managed two wins in their past eight attempts against the Storm. Yet, given the cavalry they have this week, there is a good chance they may be able to improve on that record.
Melbourne proved too clinical for the Eels in last year's Round 11 clash, prevailing 18-6 at Pirtek Stadium.
Who to watch: The clash between the two halfbacks could easily decide this one. If Brodie Croft's two performances this year are anything to go by, the Storm will be fine once Cooper Cronk departs at the end of the year. The 19-year old has showed shades of the Queensland halfback's strong kicking and running game in both games, scoring a try in Melbourne's 25-24 loss to the Roosters a fortnight ago. However, Cameron Munster will also be absent this time around and therefore Croft will have to shoulder even more responsibility.
Meanwhile, Parramatta fans will be hoping that Corey Norman's experience can guide their side home on Saturday night. Norman has only managed three try assists in his past ten appearances for the Eels, yet his performance against the Panthers in Round 8 proved how influential he can be on the result of a match. On that day, Norman managed two tries, a try assist and ran for 168 metres, single-handedly condemning Penrith to defeat. A similar performance will be needed on Saturday against a depleted Melbourne side who have proven themselves to be the ultimate professionals in recent weeks.
My tip: I have seen enough from the Storm in recent weeks to suggest that they challenge the Eels without their Origin stars. In a tight, low-scoring affair the odds being offered for Craig Bellamy's men are too hard to resist. Storm by 1.