Storm v Cowboys preview

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Melbourne Storm v North Queensland Cowboys Thursday 8:05pm at AAMI Park

Grand final re-match looms!

That's right, it's not a "replay", it's a re-match. English lessons aside, this is a very interesting clash. Both sides won their opening round clashes but fell to lesser opponents in Round 2. The Storm were grinded down and overrun late by a gritty Wests Tigers side last Saturday, disappointingly unable to deliver Billy Slater victory in game #300 of an illustrious career.

For the Cowboys, they played great footy but fell at the hands of a bounce-back from the Brisbane Broncos. The classic clashes between the two clubs continued in fine fashion but the Townsville side's late run to snatch victory wasn't quite enough - stopped in its tracks by the Suncorp Stadium goalposts.

After a lop-sided Grand Final six months ago, these two sides now seem far more evenly matched, with off-season player movement delivering positives for the Cowboys and a couple of gaps to fill for the Storm. So far they seem to have covered well with Brodie Croft an able replacement for the departed Cooper Cronk, but their forward depth has suffered with the loss of Jordan McLean - who will lace up for their opposition this Thursday.

A quick look at the teamlists has an unchanged Storm lineup despite their loss to the Wests Tigers, with Felise Kaufusi still injured. The Cowboys welcome back Michael Morgan to the halves, pushing Te Maire Martin back to the interchange and Corey Jensen to the reserves.

Last meeting: Grand Final 2017 - Storm 34 Cowboys 6

These two have clashes 36 times since the Storm's debut season in 1998, with Melbourne victorious on 26 occasions. At AAMI Park the Storm have won four from six over the Cowboys. The most memorable clash between the pair of course took place in October last year, with the Storm crowned premiers after a comfortable 34-6 Grand Final victory. Melbourne also won the two home-and-away clashes last season. The two sides also met in the pre-season at Suncorp Stadium as a testimonial match for Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston - North Queensland coming out winners 16-14 in a rain-soaked contest.

Who to watch: The battle of the big men is going to be an absolute cracker. Jesse Bromwich is no doubt still steaming after missing last year's World Cup for New Zealand following off-field indiscretions last year. He's been a solid performer over the opening fortnight so expect big metres and big minutes from the Storm enforcer this time around as well.

His opposite number is back in a big way. Like Bromwich, Scott missed the World Cup (albeit through injury), but is back in the blue+grey and keen for a big season after being absent from the Cowboys side most of last season. Whoever out of Scott and Bromwich can lay the better platform will go a long way to deciding this one.

The favourite: Melbourne's home ground advantage has them better placed with the townsfolk.

My tip: The Cowboys will have learned a few lessons from last Friday's loss to Brisbane, and while Melbourne will have done their homework, I think the Cowboys are the more capable side here. But only just. Cowboys by 2.

1. Billy Slater 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 3. Will Chambers 4. Curtis Scott 5. Josh Addo-carr 6. Cameron Munster 7. Brodie Croft 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Cameron Smith 10. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 11. Joe Stimson 12. Ryan Hoffman 13. Dale Finucane 14. Tim Glasby 16. Christian Welch 17. Sam Kasiano 21. Brandon Smith

1. Ben Hampton 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Justin O'Neill 4. Javid Bowen 5. Antonio Winterstein 6. Michael Morgan 7. Johnathan Thurston 8. Matthew Scott 9. Jake Granville 10. Jordan McLean 11. Gavin Cooper 12. Coen Hess 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Te Maire Martin 15. John Asiata 16. Scott Bolton 17. Ethan Lowe

Referees: Matt Cecchin, Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials: Dave Munro, Nick Beashel; Video Referees: Ashley Klein, Luke Patten;

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