Storm v Cowboys preview - 2017 Round 15

Melbourne Storm v North Queensland Cowboys Saturday 5:30pm at AAMI Park

Depleted heavyweights face off once more

Over the past decade success has proved costly for the NRL elite during the representative period. Managing just a single win in six Origin affected rounds dating back to 2012, the Storm have been found wanting at time as a result of the absence of their superstars. Such is the case once more this weekend, as Craig Bellamy is forced to make do with a prepared, yet nonetheless weakened lineup. Missing seven regulars through a combination of injury and Origin commitment, the silver lining for Melbourne lies in the opportunity to showcase the remarkable depth present within the clubs ranks. Bringing in underrated flyer Young Tounamaipea at fullback, exciting youngster Curtis Scott in the centres and the hooking duo of Slade Griffin and Brandon Smith, the final 17 man squad may be subject to change prior to kick-off, but with the bulk of the seasoned forward pack remaining the prospect of emerging with two competition points shouldn't be dismissed.

Much like their southern opponents, the Cowboys have traditionally struggled without their representative stars, yet despite a new-look halves pairing and changes in the forward pack, coach Paul Green should enter the Round 15 fixture with optimism. Winning just three from ten matches since 2012 without the likes of Johnathan Thurston, the first-time halves partnership of Ray Thompson and debutant Kyle Laybutt will be complemented by the presence of Lachlan Coote and Jake Granville, two players instrumental in the clubs 2015 premiership success. In the unexpected absence of Gavin Cooper, a surprise selection to shift Kane Linnett into the backrow sees Javid Bowen come into the side, while recently re-signed stalwart Scott Bolton is afforded the honour of captaining the side for the first time after a decade of distinguished service. While the Cowboys have managed just one against Melbourne in their past five clashes, their preliminary final win two years ago should serve as motivation to produce a similar effort.

Last meeting: Finals Wk 1 2016 - Storm 16 Cowboys 10

Who to watch: As one of the few remaining regulars of the Melbourne backline, Cameron Munster will be looking to increase his involvement on Saturday night in the absence of the clubs big three. Transitioning into the halves after forging a reputation as the heir apparent to Billy Slater, the 22-year-old Queenslander has thrived in his new position and looms as a pivotal player in the side's fortunes against the weakened North Queensland outfit. Set to handle the goal-kicking duties with Cameron Smith unavailable, Munster will be hoping to improve his 50% strike rate in the event Saturday's fixture goes down to the wire.

As one of the driving factors in the Cowboys 2015 premiership triumph, hooker Jake Granville will need to step up on Saturday to offset the absence of the side's representative stars. Renown for his classy service around the ruck and ability to break the line with blistering speed, the 28-year-old has been a solid performer so far this season, without capturing the heights that proved so damaging two years ago. Facing off against a similarly depleted Melbourne outfit, Granville will be out to increase his involvement to help lessen the burden on first time halves pairing Ray Thompson and Kyle Laybutt.

The favourite: Despite missing a host of familiar faces, the home ground advantage and similarly weakened opposition has the Storm favoured to come away with two competition points.

My tip: In many ways this is a game that could go either way. If the Storm get on top the size of their forwards should prove too strong, but with a mobile pack and plenty of speed in key positions the Cowboys have what it takes. Storm by 6.

6. Cameron Munster 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 3. Curtis Scott 1. Young Tonumaipea 5. Josh Addo-Carr 19. Brodie Croft 7. Ryley Jacks 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Slade Griffin 10. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 11. Felise Kaufusi 4. Tohu Harris 13. Dale Finucane 12. Kenneath Bromwich 14. Brandon Smith 15. Mark Nicholls 17. Dean Britt

1. Lachlan Coote 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Justin O'Neill 4. Javid Bowen 5. Antonio Winterstein 6. Kyle Laybutt 7. Ray Thompson 8. John Asiata 9. Jake Granville 10. Scott Bolton 11. Kane Linnett 12. Ethan Lowe 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Ben Hampton 15. Shaun Fensom 16. Ben Spina 17. Corey Jensen

Referees: Ben Cummins, Adam Gee; Sideline Officials: Tim Roby, Jason Walsh; Video Referees: Luke Patten, Steve Chiddy;

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