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Reigning premiers Melbourne Storm attempt to break a two-match losing run when they square off against an improving Parramatta Eels outfit on Friday night.
Melbourne are in third spot and Parramatta sit in 15th, but it’s the team anchored near the bottom of the ladder that has done more winning lately – can the lowly Eels register one of the upsets of the season and condemn the defending premiers to a third loss on the bounce?
It’s unlikely, especially in Melbourne, but stranger things have happened. After rising to the top of the ladder on the back of a fantastic two-month stretch of winning form, the Storm have lost their last two matches against top eight opposition.
Their winning streak was snapped by the Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium a fortnight ago, while Melbourne were upstaged by Cronulla in a tight loss last week – just as they were in the 2016 Grand Final before prevailing over the Cowboys in the 2017 showpiece.
It’s far from panic stations for Craig Bellamy and his team, but the fact they’ve lost their last two matches against top eight opposition is a slight cause for concern – can they return to the winners circle on Friday night?
It might not be as easy as you’d think. Parramatta have won three of their last four meetings and their only loss in that stretch was 26-20 against the Rabbitohs – and they led for most of that contest.
The Eels were outstanding in their last hit-out, demolishing the struggling Dragons by a 40-4 scoreline and hauling themselves off the bottom of the ladder as a result. It’s a big ask against the defending premiers in their own backyard, but the Eels have nothing to lose and that makes them dangerous.
But, with that being said, it’s still tough to go past Melbourne. Bellamy will demand a response and more often than not the Storm deliver when that’s the case. I’m backing Melbourne home on Friday night.
Cheyse Blair replaces the injured Ryan Hoffman (hamstring) on the Melbourne bench, while Tim Mannah replaces Kane Evans in the front row for Parramatta and Oregon Kaufusi is named to debut off the bench in place of Will Smith.
Storm: 1. Billy Slater 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 3. Will Chambers 4. Curtis Scott 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Cameron Munster 7. Jahrome Hughes 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Cameron Smith 10. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Joe Stimson 13. Dale Finucane 14. Cheyse Blair 15. Tim Glasby 16. Christian Welch 17. Kenneath Bromwich 18. Brandon Smith 19. Tui Kamikamica 20. Albert Vete.
Eels: 1. Corey Norman 2. Jarryd Hayne 3. Michael Jennings 4. Clint Gutherson 5. George Jennings 6. Jaeman Salmon 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Peni Terepo 9. Reed Mahoney 10. Tim Mannah 11. Marata Niukore 12. Tepai Moeroa 13. Nathan Brown 14. Oregon Kaufusi 15. Brad Takairangi 16. David Gower 17. Siosaia Vave 18. Josh Hoffman 19. Bevan French 20. Ray Stone 21. Cameron King.