Gladiators battle in top of the table clash

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On Friday night, we will experience what the Romans witnessed back in the times when gladiators battled for life and death as the Melbourne Storm and Manly Sea Eagles enter the arena in the top of the table clash.

These two NRL heavyweights have established a strong rivalry over the past several years, including facing off in the 2007 and 2008 grand finals.

They may well meet again and look intently at each other in the eyes as they await the national anthem to conclude and the whistle to be blown in this year’s premiership decider.

Although both are assured to play finals, Manly and Melbourne still have a great deal to play for.

Des Hasler’s men can still be crowned minor premiers if they prevail in the remaining two games (Melbourne and Brisbane), but they require the Storm to go down this week and then to Sydney the following week.

If Manly succumb to the dominant Storm side and then drop the ball against the Broncos next Sunday, they could enter the finals series in third place.

After overcoming the Dragons last week in a low scoring affair (8-6), the ladder-leading Storm venture north where they will meet the second-placed Sea Eagles in the second last round before the finals kick-off.

In round 24, Manly went head-to-head with the Bulldogs and all but shut the lid on their hope of playing finals.

However, it was a game which you could say they were fortunate to win. Canterbury had their chances but in the end class prevailed.

The Storm maintains the number one ranked defence in the league as well as having the second-best attack. Further, they have come out on top five times in the past eight matches.

The Sea Eagles’ attack is the best in the business in 2011. Their defence is third-best. And they hold a 6-3 lead when playing at Brookvale.

Oh aren’t we in for a treat this Friday night?

Every moment in the 80-minutes will count, more than ever – a slip in concentration and loss of focus and the game could be lost.

Possession will be imperative.

Manly are a win away from a perfect season at home this year, which gives them an edge playing host to the Storm. Another key factor in Friday’s night clash is the absence of Cooper Cronk, who also missed the St George match last week.

Melbourne have been performing at increasingly high levels this year. Cameron Smith will resemble General Maximus Decimus Meridiusin Gladiator in the opening scenes when he leads his soldiers to triumph over the Germanic tribes.

On Friday night, Brookvale will transform into the Colosseum and the two finest gladiators of the year will charge into battle.

You play Emperor; thumbs up for Manly or thumbs down for Melbourne?

A Melbourne Storm 16-10 victory for me.

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