Storm v Knights preview

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Melbourne Storm v Newcastle Knights Friday 6:00pm at AAMI Park

Storming back into contention or continuation of a Knightmare?

It was meant to be a smooth transition for Brodie Croft, a strong spine around him, experienced heads in other key positions across the park and years spent in the Storm system. However, here we are after 5 rounds with the Storm currently sitting at 2 & 3 to start the season with Cronk 2.0 having been dropped.

On the other side of the field we have a team on the up and thinking with both their heads on and off the field, Nathan Brown's rebuild of Newcastle is starting to take shape and whilst it may be too early to declare them ready for finals football with Pearce and Ponga's growing combination there's a lot more to fear for opponents of Newcastle than there has been for a number of years.

In terms of team selections - as inferred above, Croft has been left out of the Storm side, with Ryley Jacks to line up in the famous Storm #7 jumper. Newcastle meanwhile have just one forced set of changes from last Saturday's win over Brisbane, with lock Mitch Barnett suspended. This brings Herman Ese'ese from the front row to lock-forward, while Daniel Saifiti will start up, his brother Jacob gaining the vacant spot on the interchange.

Last meeting: Round 24 2017 - Knights 12 Storm 44

Melbourne have dominated the 38 clashes between this pair so far winning 23, and are eight from ten at AAMI Park against the red and blue.

Who to watch: For the Storm you could pick a number of players who haven't performed this year to the standards that have been set in the last 2 years where they have collected back to back minor premierships and collected a premiership. Smith, Slater, Bromwich, Vunivalu & even Addo-Carr have not delivered versus last year however my player to watch this week is Cameron Munster. Having carved up in round 1 at fullback he has been largely unsighted since, I'm expecting Munster to demand the ball and challenge the line often.

I haven't been the only person to watch this player this year, there have been a number of would be defenders watch as this player puts on his dancing shoes and leaves them tackling his shadow, I am of course referring to Kayln Ponga. Such as his start to the year been that there has been murmurs of him breaking into the Queensland Origin side, not bad for a 20-year-old with less than 20 games of NRL to his name. Not only is he a player to watch in the fixture but hopefully for the next 15 years.

The favourite: Home ground advantage, history, quality on paper - all point to strong backing for the Storm.

My tip: 14 losses backed up by a win, that was the streak that was broken last week in New Zealand by the Wests Tigers when they defeated the Storm. Funnily enough, you don't have to go back all that far to find the last time the Storm last 3 in a row, in 2015 they lost 4 in a row (punctuated by a Bye after the third loss) however on this occasion I can't see the Storm dropping a 3rd game in a row. Melbourne to bounce back to some sort of form for me.  Storm by 8.

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 15. Tim Glasby 18. Brandon Smith 15. Kenneath Bromwich 16. Christian Welch 17. Sam Kasiano

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 14. Danny Levi 15. Chris Heighington 16. Jamie Buhrer 17. Jacob Saifiti

Referees: Gerard Sutton, Peter Gough; Sideline Officials: Tim Roby, Belinda Sleeman; Video Referees: Steve Chiddy, Luke Patten;

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