Round 9: Storm v Eels preview
An under-fire top-four team to face a side in reach of their position on the ladder.
Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy used his post-match press conference and the dressing rooms after last week's 20-18 loss to a depleted Cronulla Sharks side to motivate his players for a clash with the Parramatta Eels.
The playing group also drew Bellamy's ire after surviving the wounded New Zealand Warriors by a one-point margin in the previous fixture.
"That's one thing I think we have been pretty strong at over the years (staying ready for every opponent), but the last couple of weeks I am starting to doubt that this group has got that," Craig Bellamy said.
"And they had better find it or I will be finding some new players.
"If I have to go and find some young blokes and put them in, I will do it.
"There are a lot of players in that team at the moment who have got a lot of points up, so there will be a couple tapped on the shoulder this week and told, ‘hey, you need to improve'."
It's a show of just how high the standards are for the Melbourne, that a 6-2 record after eight rounds leaves the coach unsure if his players have the qualities of Storm sides in recent history.
After those coach comments and a full week training, Bellamy will be expecting his side to recapture their magic as they have a prime-time fixture during the NRL's inaugural Magic Round.
The Parramatta Eels come into this clash off their second win in two attempts at the new Bankwest Stadium.
They outclassed the Wests Tigers and St George Illawarra Dragons, scoring a combined 83 points and conceding 24 points in those two matches.
Between those healthy wins was a 28-14 loss at the hands of the Newcastle Knights. Had they defeated the Knights, who had only won a single game from their first seven, they would likely have been better placed than Melbourne at present.
The Eels are now close to full strength with Manu Ma'u making a successful return in round seven.
Much of the interest around the Eels at present is the number of players they still have un-signed for 2020.
The doubts on their collective future have brought out the best in the group to date. Seeing how they play against the Storm will help to understand if that is sustainable.
The spoon-bound Eels were no match for the grand final-bound Storm at AAMI Park.
Who to watch: Melbourne's Cameron Munster has played some of his best football at Suncorp Stadium. With the weather conditions shaping up to be perfect for football, the stage is set for Munster to deliver his best. The Eels have some of the biggest forwards in the game, Munster could expose a tiring Junior Paulo or Daniel Alvaro at the back end of the first half or in the last 20 minutes.
Parramatta winger Blake Ferguson looked like he put the impairment of a rib injury and broken nose behind him to close out the Dragons match last week. His opposite will be Vunivalu, who has been out of sorts in 2019 and risks being demoted by Bellamy if his performance is not up to scratch. Ferguson is one of the last players you want to face when it's paramount you get the better of your opponent. There is a vacant spot in the New South Wales Blues backline and three Eels matches left to state his case for selection.
The favourite: The Melbourne Storm has been tagged a strong favourite. Had the noise around Bellamy's disappointment with his squad not been public, Melbourne might have been only marginally the favourites. These are the teams placed fourth and fifth on the ladder heading into round nine.
My tip: The Eels fell behind by double digits early in their last two matches. I expect Melbourne to start fast, at least faster than the Eels and to manage the game to full-time. If Melbourne does rebound from their loss and look like their teams of old, they'll expertly hold a lead to full-time. Storm by 8.