The fate of this game could depend on one very special player.
Cameron Smith is set down to play his 350th NRL game which will have the Storm pumped up to give their captain the perfect memento to mark the occasion, however, there is some doubt on his availability.
If Smith doesn’t play then it changes the whole dynamic of the match.
Melbourne has shown that they are capable of playing without Smith but there is no doubt they are a far more lethal with him in the side. They enter this game off the back of a brave 20-14 win over Canberra in which they lost Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Smith at various stages of the game.
Manly have had a great season but head down to AAMI Park off the back of a humiliating result last Sunday afternoon where the eventually fell 52-22 to the Dragons at WIN Stadium.
RALLYING THE TROOPS
Craig Bellamy has had some reshuffling to do with his squad this week.
With Billy Slater missing due to concussion, Cameron Munster slots into the fullback role which elevates Ryley Jacks to the five-eighth spot. Smith is still named to play but we suggest that punters wait until closer to kick off to see if he is in the final squad.
Melbourne has performed well when their Origin stars have been absent and this was never more evident than against Parramatta back in Round 18. Although losing 22-6, the Storm was in the contest for a fair way and if one or things had fallen in their favour then the result could have been really interesting.
Just for the record, MELBOURNE has lost two and won one match without Slater and Smith in the side in 2017.
You would think there will be some bounce back from Manly after copping 52 points last week.
Down 30-nil at the break, MANLY stormed back into it early on in the second half to make it 30-22 but that is where the comeback ended as the Dragons ran in four more tries to put the biggest score on the Sea Eagles for 12 years.
While they had won six of their past seven games going into that match there were signs that the Northern Beaches outfit were riding their luck in the past two months.
That said, the performance was definitely out of character for the 2017 outfit because they have been one of the best road teams in the competition. Even after that match only Melbourne and Cronulla have a better away record than Manly.
Trent Barrett’s side will also benefit from getting back Blake Green, Api Koroisau and Brenton Lawrence which are huge pluses heading into this encounter.
Like most sides they have MELBOURNE have dominated this fixture in recent years.
The Storm has won four of the past six games against Manly including the past two while they have only lost once at AAMI Park against Manly but that game was the most recent at the venue (2015).
These sides have built a tremendous rivalry since playing consecutive Grand Finals in 2007 and 2008 and that is highlighted by the fact that the five of the past six games between them have been decided by four points or less.
A 1-6 Winning Margin for either side could be the way to go.
We’ll put it simply – if Cameron Smith plays, Melbourne will in.
His direction, class and game management from hooker is unequalled in the modern game and should he line up for game 350 Melbourne may be a little too strong for Manly.
The Sea Eagles aren’t out of it by any means and will make Melbourne work for the points as they are conceding the second least amount of linebreaks and the least amount of errors.
After getting belted last week the Sea Eagles will come out firing and at the moment they are in a frantic fight to secure a top eight spot. If they lose and other results go their way, they could end up eighth by the weekend.
That will give them plenty of motivation here but we think it may not be enough to overcome the class of the Storm. If Smith doesn’t play, however, then it is definitely worth having a few dollars on the visitors.
The interesting sideline to this match is Nate Myles facing his former team for the first time while the same can be said for former Storm five-eighth, Blake Green.
Those who love having a bet on tryscorers should look to the Trbojevic brothers for Manly. Tom and Jake have combined to score in the past four games for Manly with Tom doing so in rounds 17 & 18 while Jake has featured in the points in the rounds 19 & 20.
JAKE TRBOJEVIC TO SCORE A TRY – has crossed for a four-pointer in his past two matches