The seventh-placed Warriors (11-6) host the second-placed Storm (12-5) in what is expected to be a tight clash in Auckland, with both teams looking to firm up a top-four position in the post-Origin period towards the finals.
The Warriors' form had looked to be falling off in recent weeks, with a controversial home loss to the Sharks backed up by a hammering from an under-strength Panthers. However, they bounced back with a convincing 26-6 win over the Broncos last week. They are tied with the Sharks, Panthers and Roosters on 24 points, but their points differential of +10 is hurting them, coming from a few heavy losses throughout the season. They seem to be unpredictable at this stage, and it is uncertain what Warriors side will turn up this week.
The Storm has not been at their absolute best this season, but they know how to do it the hard way, edging past the Sea Eagles 14-13 last week without a few of their Origin players. They have now won five on the bounce and are one win away from the top spot occupied by the Rabbitohs. Melbourne have also won their last five on the road so will have no qualms about travelling to Auckland. With their Origin players back and heading towards the finals, this will be a very dangerous Storm side.
2018 - Storm 50 def. Warriors 10 at AAMI Park
2017 - Storm 20 def. Warriors 14 at AAMI Park
2017 - Storm 26 def. Warriors 10 at Mount Smart Stadium
2016 - Storm 42 def. Warriors 0 at AAMI Park
2016 - Storm 21 def. Warriors 14 at Mount Smart Stadium
Although the head-to-head between the two sides is reasonably competitive (Storm has 23 wins to the Warriors' 16), the last five matches have seen Melbourne triumph convincingly on each occasion. They have scored a combined 150 points in their last five outings to the Warriors' 50, with two of those wins coming in Auckland. Their last meeting came earlier this season when the Storm hammered the Warriors by 50-10 in their Anzac Day clash, with the Warriors never looking in it. The Storm definitely hold the edge this week, especially with the New Zealand outfit having leaked points in several matches this season.
For the Warriors, Ken Maumalo is expected to return from injury and onto the wing. Gerard Beale pushes into the centres while Peta Hiku moves to the bench.
The Storm are boosted by the return of Origin players Billy Slater, Josh Addo-Carr, Felise Kaufusi, Will Chambers and Cameron Munster. Brodie Croft remains at halfback ahead of Rylie Jacks.
|1||Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c)||Billy Slater|
|2||David Fusitu'a||Suliasi Vunivalu|
|3||Gerard Beale||Will Chambers|
|4||Solomone Kata||Curtis Scott|
|5||Ken Maumalo||Josh Addo-Carr|
|6||Blake Green||Cameron Munster|
|7||Shaun Johnson||Brodie Croft|
|8||James Gavet||Jesse Bromwich|
|9||Issac Luke||Cameron Smith (c)|
|10||Agnatius Paasi||Nelson Asofa-Solomona|
|11||Isaiah Papali'i||Felise Kaufusi|
|12||Simon Mannering||Ryan Hoffman|
|13||Adam Blair ||Kenny Bromwich|
|14||Jazz Tevaga||Tui Kamikamica|
|15||Tevita Satae||Tim Glasby|
|16||Joseph Vuna||Christian Welch|
|17||Peta Hiku||Brandon Smith|
|18||Mason Lino||Jahrome Hughes|
|19||Karl Lawton||Joe Stimson|
|20||Bunty Afoa||Dale Finucane|
|21||Anthony Gelling||Cheyse Blair|
The facts that matter
It's strange, but it is the Warriors after all. They come into this contest with a 4-4 record at home whilst they have been great on the road this year, with a 7-2 record. Last year, they only won one match away. They really have to put things together to make Mount Smart the fortress it once was. The Storm has won there on the last two occasions, and if the Warriors aren't ready for them, it could be an easy win.
The New Zealand outfit has been good on the attack when they've had the ball. It has been like the Warriors of old in a way, as they lead the competition with 223 offloads, or an average of 13 per game. They have been making use of that second phase play as well, with 68 line breaks (4th) and 67 line break assists (fifth) for 57 tries this season (5th). David Fusitu'a has scored 15 himself, second on the try-scoring list behind Robert Jennings.
But it will be on defense where they will need to front up. They make an average of 325 tackles per game (5th), and over 10 percent of those are missed tackles, an average of 37 per game only behind the Tigers. Combine that with their average of nine penalties per game, and it will only take a bit of territory for the Storm to carve them open on the edges. Simon Mannering, playing his 293rd game and announcing his retirement at the end of the season, will want a big game from the rest of his charges.
The Storm welcome back their representative players and with Slater and Munster back in their attacking arsenal in particular, they should be a lot more dangerous than they were against the Sea Eagles last week. Alongside Brodie Croft, they will look to exploit the Warriors' tackling deficiency up front, and if they can get past Green and Johnson in the halves, the fringes will be all theirs for the taking.
Cameron Smith has marshalled his team superbly during the Origin period and it has made a big difference having his someone with his experience there during that time, with the results showing on the field. Having made an average of 14 dummy-half runs per game this season, expect him to continue his work through the ruck, to tame the Warrior's big men. If he can find a way through, expect more points for the Storm.
Melbourne will be wary of their poor handling though through the season, uncharacteristic of the high standards they usually set. Their 190 errors (3rd) is compounded by their 83 handling errors this season, which leads the competition. They will want to remedy that this week; a careless play in their own half is all the invitation Blake Green and Shaun Johnson need.
The Storm should really come away with this based on how both sides are playing at the moment, and the momentum the Storm are coming into the match with. They have won their last five, last five on the road and last five against the Warriors. They welcome their Origin players back which gives them more in attack.
The Warriors are becoming unpredictable in terms of which side will turn up the last few weeks. They have been beaten convincingly whilst turning the tables on Brisbane last week. If their defense remains strong, especially on the edges, they may have a chance, as it will relieve the burden from Johnson and Blake to set up their backline. But their tendency to miss tackles and leak points could cost them.
Tip: Storm by 8