Wests Tigers v Sea Eagles preview
3 hours ago | Tim Costello
An under-fire top-four team to face a side in reach of their position on the ladder.
Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy used his post-match press conference and the dressing rooms after last week's 20-18 loss to a depleted Cronulla Sharks side to motivate his players for a clash with the Parramatta Eels.
The playing group also drew Bellamy's ire after surviving the wounded New Zealand Warriors by a one-point margin in the previous fixture.
"That's one thing I think we have been pretty strong at over the years (staying ready for every opponent), but the last couple of weeks I am starting to doubt that this group has got that," Craig Bellamy said.
"And they had better find it or I will be finding some new players.
"If I have to go and find some young blokes and put them in, I will do it.
"There are a lot of players in that team at the moment who have got a lot of points up, so there will be a couple tapped on the shoulder this week and told, ‘hey, you need to improve'."
Some of those players struggling to play well are arguably Suliasi Vunivalu, Felise Kaufusi, Brodie Croft and Curtis Scott.
It's a show of just how high the standards are for the Melbourne, that a 6-2 record after eight rounds leaves the coach unsure if his players have the qualities of Storm sides in recent history.
After those coach comments and a full week training, Bellamy will be expecting his side to recapture their magic as they have a prime-time fixture during the NRL's inaugural Magic Round.
On Tuesday's team list release Patrick Kaufusi made way for the now healthy Brandon Smith in their only change.
The Parramatta Eels come into this clash off their second win in two attempts at the new Bankwest Stadium.
They outclassed the Wests Tigers and St George Illawarra Dragons, scoring a combined 83 points and conceding 24 points in those two matches.
Between those healthy wins was a 28-14 loss at the hands of the Newcastle Knights. Had they defeated the Knights, who had only won a single game from their first seven, they would likely have been better placed than Melbourne at present.
The Eels are now close to full strength with Manu Ma'u making a successful return in round seven.
Tim Mannah is named to return from an ankle injury and Blake Ferguson played well after coping a rib injury and broken nose in recent times.
Much of the interest around the Eels at present is the number of players they still have un-signed for 2020.
In addition to players like Clint Gutherson, Mitchell Moses, Brad Takairangi, Mannah and Ma'u being available, head coach Brad Arthur also doesn't know his future.
The doubts on their collective future have brought out the best in the group to date. Seeing how they play against the Storm will help to understand if that is sustainable.
Last meeting: Round 23 2018 - Storm 20 Eels 4
The spoon-bound Eels were no match for the grand final-bound Storm at AAMI Park.
Who to watch: Melbourne's Cameron Munster has played some of his best football at Suncorp Stadium. With the weather conditions shaping up to be perfect for football, the stage is set for Munster to deliver his best. The Eels have some of the biggest forwards in the game, Munster could expose a tiring Junior Paulo or Daniel Alvaro at the back end of the first half or in the last 20 minutes.
Parramatta winger Blake Ferguson looked like he put the impairment of a rib injury and broken nose behind him to close out the Dragons match last week. His opposite will be Vunivalu, who has been out of sorts in 2019 and risks being demoted by Bellamy if his performance is not up to scratch. Ferguson is one of the last players you want to face when it's paramount you get the better of your opponent. There is a vacant spot in the New South Wales Blues backline and three Eels matches left to state his case for selection.
The favourite: The Melbourne Storm has been tagged a strong favourite. Had the noise around Bellamy's disappointment with his squad not been public, Melbourne might have been only marginally the favourites. These are the teams placed fourth and fifth on the ladder heading into round nine.
My tip: The Eels fell behind by double digits early in their last two matches. I expect Melbourne to start fast, at least faster than the Eels and to manage the game to full-time. If Melbourne does rebound from their loss and look like their teams of old, they'll expertly hold a lead to full-time. Storm by 8.
1. Jahrome Hughes 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 3. Will Chambers 21. Curtis Scott 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Cameron Munster 7. Brodie Croft 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Cameron Smith 15. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Kenneath Bromwich 13. Dale Finucane 10. Christian Welch 14. Brandon Smith 16. Tui Kamikamica 17. Ryan Papenhuyzen
1. Clint Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Michael Jennings 4. Brad Takairangi 5. Blake Ferguson 6. Jaeman Salmon 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Daniel Alvaro 14. Peni Terepo 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 12. Marata Niukore 13. Tepai Moeroa 9. Reed Mahoney 15. Tim Mannah 16. Oregon Kaufusi 17. Manu Ma'u
Referees: Henry Perenara, Jon Stone; Sideline Officials: David Munro, Mark Bohan; Video Referees: Steve Chiddy, Bryan Norrie;