A shoulder injury to 400-gamer Cameron Smith and a knee injury to star five-eighth Cameron Munster have resulted in some tremendous experience and attacking brilliance that will be lacking against the Sydney Roosters on Thursday.
It will be a tough contest between two of the NRL’s most dominant teams considering the Roosters also have injury issues of their own. Skipper Boyd Cordner, Brett and Josh Morris, Daniel Tupou, Victor Radley and Angus Crichton are some notable absences for Thursday’s blockbuster encounter.
But you can’t hold anything against the reigning premiers – they’ve won two premierships because they are the best. The spine that guided them to those two premierships is very much intact, with just the retirement of Queensland great Cooper Cronk.
Kyle Flanagan has made a wonderful transition into the No. 7 jumper and put in some great performances for them. James Tedesco and Jake Friend have been a bit quiet the last couple of rounds, but expect them to be at their roaring best. Luke Keary is at a whole new level, and the weekend’s win just goes to show how he influences the Roosters attack.
Craig Bellamy wasn’t too worried when Cam Smith went off considering how Brenden Smith’s form has been. He probably deserves to start this next couple of rounds. But then when you add your X factor playmaker to the injury list it causes some sort of uncertainty about your attack.
Nevertheless, the Storm are greats in their own right, and there’s one reason why: it’s how they can make pretty ordinary players look special in a team. The absence of Cam Munster may be a hard blow, especially against the Easts, but the more than capable Ryley Jacks could surely slot into No. 6 and partner the in-form Jahrome Hughes, who has improved much of his kicking game this season.
Ryan Papenhuyzen will slot back into fullback after being rested this round. That would complete the new-look Melbourne spine for Thursday.
In the next couple of weeks the Storm will face their toughest competition with or without Munster and Smith. With the Parramatta Eels, Manly Sea Eagles and South Sydney Rabbitohs looming, their performances could determine their overall threat as title contenders.
If they happen to perform less well than they’d hope, you’d expect teams like North Queensland to cause some trouble in Round 18.
Without a doubt I will be expecting the Storm to take on the challenge head-on and continue a fine run to a possible top-four finish.