Melbourne Storm entertain the Brisbane Broncos on Friday night and not many would have had this as a top-of-the-ladder clash at the start of the 2022 NRL campaign.
It is no surprise to see the Storm in second place on the ladder, just four points behind Penrith Panthers with a game in hand. They have made another solid start to the season and will look to close the gap on the Panthers by seeing off the Broncos.
However Brisbane are the surprise package of the season and currently sit in fourth place, just two points behind the Storm. They have won their last seven on the bounce but face arguably their biggest test here.
Last season the Storm scored 80 points against the Broncos, who only managed 18. Expect a closer encounter on Friday night.
What: Melbourne Storm v Brisbane Broncos
Where: AAMI Park, Melbourne
When: 19.55 (AEST), Friday 17th June, 2022
How to watch: Channel 9, Fox Sports
Odds: Melboourne 2/13, Brisbane 9/2
The Storm have got their campaign back on track with back-to-back wins following alarming defeats to the Panthers and North Queensland.
Before the two defeats they were crushing everyone that was put before them. Craig Bellamy’s men put 70 points on the Warriors, 50 on the Knights and 42 on the Dragons in successive weeks.
Then injuries struck. Influential half Jahrome Hughes and star fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen were ruled out. Not that Bellamy was using that as an excuse.
They still had enough quality including the likes of Cameron Munster, who is arguably the star of the whole comp right now.
After getting the reality check they have beaten Manly Sea Eagles and the Sydney Roosters and will be keen to make it three wins in a row against the Broncos.
Bellamy will take plenty of heart from the way his side fought out the 26-18 win over the Roosters last week.
They had three players backing up from State of Origin and were also without Xavier Coates but still managed to get the job done. They will need similar spirit to see off the Broncos.
Team news. Coates needs an operation on the ankle injury he picked up while playing for New South Wales in Origin and is looking at a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
The Storm were looking forward to getting Papenhuyzen back against the Broncos only for the gun fullback to be struck down by sickness. It means Nick Meaney will retain the number one jersey for now.
The Broncos have been a revelation this season after a number of years in the wilderness. Coach Kevin Walters has taken them from rock bottom and there is the promise of even more to come.
They only picked up seven wins in the entire 2021 NRL campaign but have nine already this season as they look to cement their place in the top four.
The addition of Adam Reynolds from South Sydney has been a masterstroke. It also begs the question what on earth were Souths thinking when allowing the playmaker to leave at the end of the season.
Unfortunately for the Broncos, Reynolds will be missing after picking up a rib injury in last weekend’s bruising encounter against the Canberra Raiders. He will be a huge loss and it will harm the Broncos chances against the Storm for sure.
But they have proven this season they have quality all over the park. Again they overcame the odds and showed great spirit to beat the Raiders 24-18 and they are a completely different animal this year.
Pat Carrigan will be crucial for the Broncos. He showed his class for Queensland in game one of State of Origin and the Broncos will need him on top form again against the Storm.
The same can be said of Payne Haas who looks to have overcome a shoulder injury picked up against the Raiders. His battle against Melbourne prop Jesse Bromwich could go a long way to determining which way this game will go.
Team news. Speaking after the bruising win over Canberra, Walters was concerned what kind of side he would be able to put against the Storm. But things have improved.
The loss of Reynolds is a huge blow. The same can be said of star centre Herbie Farnworth who is facing a spell out with a bicep injury.
But it is not all bad news. Haas has been passed fit, while Kotoni Staggs will return from the shoulder injury he picked up in Origin.
Speedy winger and man-of-the-moment Selwyn Cobbo is back in the fold, along with another Origin star, Kurt Capewell.