Perfect Storm Searching For A Neat Dozen

Image courtesy of dailytelegraph.com.au
First round specialist Melbourne Storm will miss Cooper Cronk. Image courtesy of dailytelegraph.com.au
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles v Melbourne Storm

Saturday, March 8 – 6.05pm (AEST)

Where: Brookvale Oval

Things you need to know:
Dally M Medallist Cooper Cronk misses the clash due to a shoulder injury, but he should be back for round two. Billy Slater has been named despite missing the Storm's trial matches during pre-season. Justin O'Neill (knee) remains sidelined, while forward Ryan Hinchcliffe (ankle) has been named. Matt Duffie (knee) is out for the season, while Travis Robinson (knee) could return in round five.
Manly's front-row stocks took a hit with co-captain Jason King ruled out of the Storm clash with a shoulder problem. Winger Jorge Taufua (shoulder) is also out, while fellow flyer David Williams (knee) misses.

Reason to watch:
Manly v Melbourne rarely fails to live up to the hype. The Battle of Brookvale and grand finals have made this fierce rivalry, and they are must-watch clashes regardless of ladder positions or how each team is expected to go this season. Expect plenty of spice and a passionate Manly crowd to make for a hostile atmosphere for the Storm. Just how those fans treat George Rose remains to be seen after the 30-year-old's switch from the Sea Eagles to Melbourne. The veteran prop has been motivated by the round one clash throughout pre-season.

Reason to turn away:
Why would you? This is the first of two meetings – unless they play in the finals – between two teams expected to feature at the business end of the season. It would be near the top of the list of regular-season games to watch and it comes in round one. With plenty of skill and class on show – even without Cronk and Williams – as well as a fierce rivalry, there is no reason to turn away.

Say what:
"They're going to be physical, the crowd's going to get behind them and they've got the attacking out wide. It's going to be a good benchmark to see where we're at and how our pre-season's gone. It's exciting." – Storm centre Will Chambers.

Final word:

Cronk's absence makes Manly deserved favourites, even without Williams. The Storm's run of remarkable starts to campaigns looks set to come to an end. Melbourne have won 11 straight round-one matches but a trip to Brookvale is arguably the biggest test of that incredible record. Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans should run the show for Geoff Toovey's men and their class should see them over the line. Sea Eagles by eight.

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