Having started the season as one of the front-runners for the premiership, suddenly the Parramatta Eels are starting to lose steam and the last thing they need is to face a red-hot Melbourne Storm side.
The Eels crashed to just their third loss for the season last Friday, when they were pipped 14-12 by the St George Illawarra Dragons.
But while they remain third on the ladder, Parra have not won a match by more than ten points since defeating the North Queensland Cowboys 42-4 in Round 8, while their heaviest defeat was by 24-10 against the Roosters in Round 6.
Their other loss was 22-18 against the Sea Eagles at Lottoland in Round 9, after they had trailed by 22-4 in the first half.
Injuries and suspensions to key players such as Nathan Brown and Mitchell Moses have not helped, while Maika Sivo was sub-par against the Dragons, with his opposite Mikaele Ravalawa scoring two tries.
On the other hand, not even injuries to the two Camerons, Smith and Munster, have slowed the Storm, with Craig Bellamy’s side winning their past eight matches to shoot up to second on the ladder.
Only six weeks after topping the Roosters 27-25 at Suncorp Stadium in one of the matches of the season, Melbourne repeated the dose at the Sydney Cricket Ground, inflicting a 24-6 defeat on the injury-ravaged premiers.
Jahrome Hughes, Brandon Smith and Ryan Papenhuyzen were among their finest, with Hughes the best on ground.
However, Hughes has been ruled out due to injury, with Cooper Johns – the nephew of rugby league great Andrew Johns – to make his debut in the halves.
This will be the first time the two have faced off since last year’s semi-finals, which the southerners won 32-0, coming six days after the Eels inflicted a 58-0 defeat upon the Brisbane Broncos in the elimination final.
Further, it will also be the first time the Storm play at the new Western Sydney Stadium.
The clash before that saw the Storm win 64-10 in Magic Round at Suncorp, meaning Melbourne have won their past two matches against the blue and gold by a combined total of 96-10. However, this will be their first clash in Sydney since May 2016; on that occasion, the Storm won 18-6 against a side that had been ripped apart by a salary cap scandal that saw Parra stripped of 12 competition points.
The Eels’ only win in that period came in 2017 when they won 22-6 at AAMI Park – though the Storm were missing Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and co. due to State of Origin commitments.
Later that season, Brad Arthur’s side pushed the Storm all the way in a qualifying final at the same venue before succumbing 18-16, their lack of finals experience proving to be the difference.
Thus, you can bet that there will be no love lost between the Parramatta Eels and Melbourne Storm when they face off in a potential finals preview at Bankwest Stadium.