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Melbourne Storm v Parramatta Eels Saturday 7:50pm at Suncorp Stadium

Eels head north to battle Storm for a coveted week off.

After a helter-skelter 18 weeks since the competition resumed, a trip up north against a revitalised Storm might just be the spark Parramatta needs. Despite coming off consecutive victories, the Eels are yet to regain the intensity that rocketed them to the top of the table after nine rounds.

Having locked down second place with comfortable victories over the Cowboys and Tigers, Melbourne rested a host of stars in last week's loss to the Dragons. For the Eels there was no such luxury, forced to tackle the Tigers at near full strength just to maintain their top four billing.

Now playing back-to-back finals campaigns for the first time since 2007, Parramatta is a club clearly on the up. But after losses to Melbourne in each of their past two finals series, a strategic round-20 loss must have crossed Brad Arthur's mind as he worked the whiteboards for attacking solutions.

Ironically, defence was the Eels' catch cry in last month's build up against the Storm. But since the successful 14-0 shutout, along with the silky smooth Dylan Brown, Parra's attacking rhythm has vanished - including two tryless defeats against top-eight opponents.

But with Brown named to return from ankle surgery alongside fellow inclusions Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Michael Jennings, optimistic Eels fans won't be put off by Melbourne's impressive 13 from 22 finals record since 2011.

In other changes, Shaun Lane rejoins the starting pack while the slippery Will Smith moves to the bench with Kane Evans, Andrew Davey and Marata Niukore.

For Craig Bellamy, a tenth consecutive finals series is all about unfinished business. Last season's elimination a game shy of the grand final was a wasted minor premiership that now becomes an inspiration. Nearing full strength with a few minor uncharacteristic defensive lapses to mend, Melbourne's run has a cup feel about it.

Fit and firing after last week's break, nine of the Storm's best return to this week's run on side. And in a sign of the club's depth, Brandon Smith returns to the bench with Tino Fa'asuamaleaui and the reliable Tom Eisenhuth.

Defensively, little separates the sides with Melbourne and the Eels conceding the second and third least points respectively. And while no team has more run metres than the Eels, a fumbling uncertainty with ball in hand sees them ninth for points scored. It's a clear point of difference, with the Storm's slick combinations well placed to advance the club to it's 13th preliminary final since 1998.

Last meeting: Round 15 2020 - Eels 14 Storm 0

Who to watch: On target for an eighth grand final appearance and with 39 finals matches already in the bank, nobody unpacks the pointy end of a season better than Cameron Smith. Having tasted success in his first finals match way back in 2003, the future Immortal shows no signs of slowing down. And with a viper-like instinct to strike when feared least, Smith's astute touch is guaranteed to send the Eels scrambling just when it looks like they've put the lid on the box.

Fired up Parra fans haven't missed Mitchell Moses in recent weeks, but without Clint Gutherson's spirit the Eels would already be on their knees. Better known for his attack, it was King Gutho's match saving tackle in the dying minutes that kept the Tigers out and the Eels' double shot alive.

After a mid-season fade out, the creative skipper is hitting his straps in time for just his third finals appearance in eight seasons. And with career best run metres and try assists already this year, the Storms' hitmen will be watching him like a hawk.

The favourite: Parramatta rolled a depleted Storm just six weeks ago. Now with Cameron Smith, Cameron Munster and Jerome Hughes all back on deck, Melbourne are the raging favourite.

My tip: It may not be the match Brisbane expected but it keeps Queensland league fans in the mix. For the Storm, unbeaten in their past 18 starts north of the Tweed, a stuttering Eels at Suncorp Stadium should hold no fear. Brown's return lifts the weight of Moses' shoulders but it will count for little unless the Eels pack rolls through the middle with second phase play. Last week the Eels repelled a lowly ranked Tigers, but against a primed Storm they will do well to keep it respectable. And on heavy legs with little time to recover, a straight sets exit wouldn't surprise. Storm by 10.


1. Ryan Papenhuyzen 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 3. Brenko Lee 4. Justin Olam 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Cameron Munster 7. Jahrome Hughes 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Cameron Smith 10. Christian Welch 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Kenneath Bromwich 13. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 14. Brandon Smith 15. Tino Fa'asuamaleaui 17. Nicholas Hynes 22. Chris Lewis

1. Clinton Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Michael Jennings 4. Waqa Blake 5. Blake Ferguson 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 9. Reed Mahoney 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 12. Ryan Matterson 13. Nathan Brown 14. Will Smith 15. Andrew Davey 16. Kane Evans 17. Marata Niukore


Referees: Ashley Klein; Sideline Officials: Dave Munro, Peter Gough; Video Referees: Steve Chiddy;



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