A major fixturing anomaly will see the Melbourne Storm and Sydney Roosters facing each other on neutral territory at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane tomorrow night.
A recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Victoria has forced the Storm to evacuate their home state, setting up camp on the Sunshine Coast, where they expect to remain for at least a month.
This saw Melbourne’s home game against the Warriors last Friday night shifted to Kogarah Oval in Sydney’s southern suburbs, but it didn’t affect the players as they thrashed the men from across the ditch 50-6.
But now the Storm face their toughest test of the season – the red-hot Sydney Roosters, at what was due to be played at AAMI Park and would’ve been worthy of Magic Round.
The Roosters are coming off a hard-fought 26-12 win over the Dragons, in which they lost two key players – Victor Radley and Sam Verrills – to season-ending ACL injuries.
The surface of Bankwest Stadium – which has had to host so many matches since the season resumption – thus came under fire, and while it got the green light for the Eels versus Raiders match the following night, the turf has been relaid ahead of this weekend.
It is a sledgehammer blow to the Tricolours’ hopes of becoming the first team since the Parramatta Eels in 1981-83 to win three consecutive premierships. Nonetheless, they have been the most impressive team in the competition, not dropping a match since the season resumption on May 28.
Trent Robinson’s side have outscored their opposition 179-40 in their past 400 minutes of football – conceding no more than two tries in each of their past five victories – and thrashing the Brisbane Broncos by 59-0 last month.
Subsequently, they possess the league’s best offence, defence and points differential (201, 69 and +132 respectively), and sit third on the ladder, behind the Parramatta Eels and Penrith Panthers.
It is a strong indication that, after losing their first two matches of the season prior to the shutdown, they are firming as the team that no one will want to face in October.
Melbourne also have a 5-2 record, with their losses being against the Raiders and Panthers, to sit in fourth with a points differential of +65 – the third-best in the league.
It will be the teams’ first meeting since last year’s preliminary final, which the Roosters won 14-6 to progress to the grand final against the Raiders, which they ultimately won.
The pair also met in the 2018 decider, with the Chooks famously winning 21-6 in a match halfback Cooper Cronk was only able to use one shoulder.
As far as crowds are concerned, the majority of the 10,000 or so fans allowed to attend the match are expected to be Storm members based in Brisbane.
And with both sides near the top of the ladder, they can expect to be treated to a blockbuster in neutral territory.