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It’s been one of the most dominant seasons in recent memory from the Melbourne Storm, but it will all count for nothing if they can’t maintain that level throughout the next month, starting with a home final against Parramatta Eels on Saturday.
Melbourne have been near-flawless over the course of the season, losing just four matches and winning their last seven matches on the bounce heading into the finals, including thumping victory over the Rabbitohs (64-6) and Raiders (32-6) in their last two encounters.
Craig Bellamy knows exactly what to do to get the best out of his side over September, and the Storm deserve their heavy favouritism to take out the premiership.
One factor that could affect them is pressure – they’ve been so dominant and cruised through the season, but like I mentioned earlier, the competition restarts now and Melbourne are the hunted, with every team knowing they have to lift when they square off.
Parramatta have the attacking capabilities to trouble the structured Storm outfit, but do they have the brick-wall defence required to hold Melbourne at bay over 80 minutes? I’m not so sure.
The Eels have been outstanding in 2017, putting the disappointment of their salary cap scandal 2016 behind them and surging into a top four finish, ensuring they will get a second bite at the cherry – and possibly a week off if they can pull off a stunning upset.
Brad Arthur’s mean are also in fine form, winning 11 of their last 13 games of the regular season, so they head into this showdown full of confidence – meaning they will be dangerous in attack.
But the Storm have been so clinical all season and it will take a polished and almost perfect performance to beat them, especially at home. Parramatta did defeat them earlier this season, but it was during the Origin period. A full-strength Melbourne outfit should be too strong on Saturday.
Storm team: 1. Billy Slater 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 3. William Chambers 4. Curtis Scott 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Cameron Munster 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Cameron Smith 10. Jordan McLean 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Tohu Harris 13. Dale Finucane 14. Kenneath Bromwich 15. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 16. Tim Glasby 17. Slade Griffin 18. Jahrome Hughes 19. Robbie Rochow 20. Joe Stimson 21. Young Tonumaipea.
Eels team: 1. Will Smith 2. Semi Radradra 3. Michael Jennings 4. Brad Takairangi 5. Kirisome Auva’a 6. Corey Norman 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Daniel Alvaro 9. Cameron King 10. Tim Mannah 11. Manu Ma’u 12. Tepai Moeroa 13. Nathan Brown 14. Beau Scott 15. Kenny Edwards 16. Siosaia Vave 17. Suaia Matagi 18. Kaysa Pritchard 19. Josh Hoffman 20. David Gower 21. Frank Pritchard.