You don’t have to be Brad Arthur to know what lies around the corner. Hell, you don’t even have to be Craig Bellamy. Anyone with half a footy brain knows that Melbourne’s finals strategy is locked into their DNA.
It may have taken a firecracker to get Joey Leilua to pinch Cameron Smith’s pocket last week but the only folk dodging shrapnel this week are at Red Hill. Back in Melbourne Bellamy will simply dust off the script, tweak and repeat.
On any other night the Storm probably would have held on and enjoyed the week off. The bump and grind was almost enough, it’s the innate finals staple that other club’s call culture.
The only surprise last week was Bellamy himself, using the post-match presser to air grievances over the stop-start nature of the contest – grapple me that.
The Storm locked into finals overdrive in the penultimate week of the home-and-way season with a brutal ambush of the Sea Eagles at Lottoland. Nelson Asofa-Solomona punched holes through the much vaunted Manly pack while Smith played the corners and as Manly wilted the points flowed.
Back in Round 19 it was a different story – on that night the Sea Eagles resisted the initial onslaught and much like Ricky’s Raiders remained close enough at the death to pinch an unlikely victory.
So far this season it has been the only way to extinguish the Storm. A four-point deficit to Canberra back in Round 22 their biggest loss of the year.
It’s been a similar story for sides tackling Melbourne in finals over the last decade – dodge the anaconda’s grip or wilt and concede plenty. With four grand finals and two premierships since 2011, striking holes in the Storm’s finals’ record takes a long bow – but the trends are there.
Either side of blowing the Cowboys off the park in the 2017 decider, there’s an argument that – in the losses to Cronulla and the Roosters – if Melbourne was guilty of anything it was letting both games drift at the expense of their explosive outside backs.
To some it’s the essence of the game, win upfront before attacking the flanks. What Melbourne aren’t guilty of is running up big scores once they own the middle, but if locked in a classic slog fest their conservatism can play into their opponent’s hands.
Brad Arthur is a Bellamy disciple but you can bet his outfit will be primed to disrupt his former mentor’s rhythm. A classic finals grind isn’t the Eels way, not if the last fortnight is anything to go by.
And why not? On the back of early ball to Maika Sivo and Blake Ferguson the Eels’ go forward is as good as any and there’s not better finishers in the competition.
The problem for Bellamy is the fact the Eels can score from anywhere, while the problem for Arthur is lifting his side after a big win. Parramatta has already won nine games this year by 12-plus, but they’ve only backed up with a win the following round on two occasions.
Can the Eels stoke the fire and go again, should Brodie Croft play and will the Storm remain rigid?
So many questions, but at home the Storm deserve favouritism. But the Eels won’t die wondering and if the game is allowed to flow, expect another cracker.