Melbourne v Manly Preliminary Final

Image courtesy of heraldsun.com.au
Image courtesy of heraldsun.com.au
Both Melbourne  and Manly  have overcome mid-season form slumps to reach the last four in the NRL competition this year, and one of them will be grand final bound after Friday night’s blockbuster showdown between the pair at AAMI Park in Melbourne. The Storm’s five game losing run following this year’s State Of Origin series is now nothing but a distant memories following the clubs six consecutive wins since round 22. Manly also put together six wins on the trot at the end of the season, before succumbing 16-10 to the Bulldogs in the first week of the finals. They put that defeat behind them however with a controversial 22-12 victory against the Cowboys on Saturday night.

With several players feeling the effects of a long season, Melbourne had the luxury of a week off last weekend with Sika Manu, Todd Lowrie and Will Chambers all named in an extended 20 man squad, although Jason Ryles and Anthony Quinn remain on the sidelines with injury. Matt Duffie is the only other player missing from their first XIII squad.

Manly welcome centre Steve Matai back into the fold after he missed last week’s match through suspension.

History – These two clubs have forged a great rivalry over the past few seasons and have won four of the past five grand finals between them. Melbourne defeated the Sea Eagles in the 2007 decider, but Manly got revenge 12 months later with a 40-0 drubbing of the Storm. Melbourne has won 12 of the 22 meetings between the pair, while Manly have triumphed on ten occasions. The Storm was 26-22 victors at Brookvale Oval in round 15 this season.

Dangermen – Inspirational Storm skipper Cameron Smith  is widely regarded as one of the greatest hookers to have played the game and his work in both attack and defence is central to so much of his side’s success.

Manly winger Jorge Tafua  may only have got a start for the Sea Eagles because David Williams is injured, but he has grabbed it with both hands. He has made 25 tackle breaks in his past two matches and six line breaks. Melbourne’s left side defence will have their hands full keeping him quiet.

Prediction – Melbourne will be fresh from a week off, while Manly have had a couple of hard matches in the past fortnight and that could be telling. The Sea Eagles biggest problem could be finding a way to limit the damage or Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater. The Storm has won all ten games this year that the three have played together. Melbourne 1-12

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