The team enjoyed their second win in two games at home in Round 5, but it’s back on the road this week as the nib Newcastle Knights travel down to Melbourne.
While the Storm are not kicking off their premiership defence in the manner they would have hoped, they have still only won one less game than the Knights and will be a very dangerous prospect.
MELBOURNE STORM v NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS
Date: Friday April 13
Venue: AAMI Park
Referee: Gerard Sutton
1. Kalyn Ponga, 2. Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 3. Sione Mata’utia, 4. Nathan Ross, 5. Ken Sio, 6. Brock Lamb, 7. Mitchell Pearce, 8. Daniel Saifiti, 9. Slade Griffin, 10. Jacob Lillyman, 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon, 12. Aidan Guerra, 13. Herman Ese’ese. Interchange: 14. Danny Levi, 15. Chris Heighington, 16. Jamie Buhrer, 17. Jacob Saifiti, 18. Luke Yates, 19. Josh King, 20. Jack Cogger, 21. Cory Denniss.
1. Billy Slater, 2. Suliasi Vunivalu, 3. Young Tonumaipea, 4. Curtis Scott, 5. Josh Addo-Carr, 6. Cameron Munster, 7. Ryley Jacks, 8. Jesse Bromwich, 9. Cameron Smith, 10. Nelson Asofa-Solomona, 11. Felise Kaufusi, 12. Ryan Hoffman, 13. Kenneath Bromwich, 14. Joe Stimson, 15. Tim Glasby, 16. Christian Welch, 17. Sam Kasiano, 18. Brandon Smith, 19. Patrick Kaufusi, 20. Brodie Croft, 21. Justin Olam.
RETURN TO MELBOURNE
It was just two months ago that the Knights last visited Melbourne for a trial match in the pre-season.
On that day the red and blues defeated the Storm 26-22 with a last gasp winner, but there’s a big difference between a pre-season runabout and a premiership fixture.
The Storm were also without Cameron Smith and Billy Slater on that occasion, although the Knights forward pack showed that they could match it with the likes of Dale Finucane, Tim Glasby and Jesse Bromwich.
That will again be the key this Friday, as when the Knights have won the forwards battle this season they have more often than not gone on to win the game.
STORM’S RECENT RUN
Having only won two games out of a possible five so far, many are surprised by the Storm’s start to the new season.
Whether they’re missing Cooper Cronk or a number of players are still experiencing fatigue from last year’s World Cup campaign, sooner or later Craig Bellamy will have his troops back to their best.
So far they have lost to the Wests Tigers (twice) and the Cronulla Sharks, while they’ve registered wins over the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs and North Queensland Cowboys.
Bellamy made a shock team change on Tuesday as well, relegating halfback Brodie Croft to the extended bench in place of Ryley Jacks.
While not too many casual followers of rugby league would have heard of him before, Jacks is a 25-year-old halfback that so far has 13 NRL games to his name.
Having drawn comparisons to Cronk in the past, Jacks is a game management type of player that recorded some of the best defensive statistics for halves in the NRL last season.
With Mitch Barnett ruled out through suspension, Herman Ese’ese goes to lock after having an outstanding game there against the Parramatta Eels back in the pre-season.
That sees Daniel Saifiti get his second start of 2018 in the front row, and he will have a big job to do against the Storm’s starting props in Jesse Bromwich and Nelson Asofa-Solomona.
Saifiti had a strong game against the Broncos with 91 metres from 9 runs and 21 tackles with just one missed, and will need to replicate that against the Storm.
Jacob Saifiti is also back on the bench after playing in Reserve Grade last week, while Danny Levi is pencilled in to make his second NRL appearance of the year.
His tag teaming effort with Slade Griffin last Saturday worked well for the team, and he will be aiming to find some space around the ruck later in the game when fatigue has set in.