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3 hours ago | Tim Costello
History beckons as Cameron Smith's Storm host the Bulldogs in Melbourne.
If someone said a little over 21 years ago when the Melbourne Storm first entered the National Rugby League competition, that a future player of the newly franchise would one day go on to break the record for most points scored in premiership history, more than a few eyebrows would have been raised.
That was of course before a future Immortal of the game came along in 2002 and set about winning just about every award and breaking every record the game had to offer. On Sunday afternoon, Storm skipper Cameron Smith will run on to AAMI Park needing nine more points to break the point-scoring record of 2418 held by Bulldogs great, Hazem El Masri.
The Storm have enjoyed a perfect start to the season winning three from three, hence an unchanged 17 man line-up being named this week. They will be looking to stay focused and not let the occasion get the better of them against a Bulldogs outfit who will be bringing confidence with them after their last start win.
After suffering back to back heavy defeats to open their season, the Bulldogs made a raft of changes last week which along with the re-signing of Coach Dean Pay gave them the shot of energy needed for an upset win over the Tigers.
That win came at a cruel cost though, with five-eight Kieran Foran suffering a nasty ankle injury ruling him out of action for the next ten weeks at least. The injury couldn't have come at a worse time, with Foran playing his best game in a number of years.
Enter Jack Cogger - The former Newcastle Knight was signed last season looking for an opportunity to crack a regular first grade spot. That was before the emergence late last year of Lachlan Lewis who cemented a spot in the halves with some impressive performances. It looked as though Cogger would again have to play second fiddle, but now he gets the opportunity to lockdown a spot of his own.
Last meeting: Round 1 2018 - Bulldogs 18 Storm 36
The Storm have won the last two matches between these sides in Round 1 of the 2017 and 2018 seasons. Those wins broke a streak of six straight victories from the Bulldogs who have won their last three games at AAMI Park.
Who to watch: The unsung hero of this Melbourne team over the years, Dale Finucane has hit the ground running once again this season. With match averages of 148 metres, 3 tackle busts and 33 tackles, Finucane shores up the middle of the field as good as any lock forward in the game. Along with his willingness to do plenty of the dirty work, he packs plenty of punch on both sides of the ball and always performs strongly against his former club. Has a telepathic like understanding with Cameron Smith close to the line which often sees him barge over next to the uprights.
Squaring off against Finucane on Sunday will be former housemate Josh Jackson who despite being named in his customary number 11 jersey, will play through the middle third as he did last week. The Bulldogs captain has made a home for himself over the years patrolling the right edge, but looks set now to ply his trade through the middle. The position really suits his style of play and he picked up a man of the match award playing lock in a losing Origin side a couple of years back. His work ethic and toughness can never be questioned and the more he's in the game, the better it is for his team. Has good footwork before the line and the ability to get his right arm free and offload in traffic.
The favourite: Melbourne are overwhelming favourites with the bookies here at $1.13 with the Bulldogs at $5.75.
My tip: It's hard to see anything but a Storm victory here the way they are travelling, but they'll need to be on their game coming up against a Bulldogs outfit coming to town on the back of a last start win. They will be running out loving their underdog status and will have a real crack here which could make it closer than many think. Storm by 9.
1. Jahrome Hughes 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 17. Marion Seve 4. Curtis Scott 3. Will Chambers 6. Cameron Munster 7. Brodie Croft 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Cameron Smith 10. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Kenneath Bromwich 13. Dale Finucane 14. Brandon Smith 15. Christian Welch 16. Tui Kamikamica 18. Ryan Papenhuyzen
1. Nick Meaney 2. Jayden Okunbor 3. Kerrod Holland 4. Will Hopoate 5. Reimis Smith 6. Jack Cogger 7. Lachlan Lewis 8. Aiden Tolman 9. Jeremy Marshall-King 10. Dylan Napa 11. Josh Jackson 12. Corey Harawira-Naera 13. Rhyse Martin 14. Michael Lichaa 15. Ofahiki Ogden 16. Adam Elliot 17. Chris Smith
Referees: Ben Cummins, Tim Roby; Sideline Officials: Rickey McFarlane, Belinda Sleeman; Video Referees: Ashley Klein, Bryan Norrie;