As the dust settles on Friday night football and Parramatta is finally off everyone's talking list, attention should turn to 'Super Saturday' and a test for both sides. Melbourne the pinnacle of game management and the Cowboys, the defending premiers with options all over the park. Both sides have strengths and both sides have an x-factor.
Melbourne: Although the Storm had a slow start to the season they are finally finding their feet and their combinations are coming together. It is obvious that their 2016 campaign was going to be built around attacking options with Slater and when his season was cut short Munster had to come in and fill the void. Even though he has been there and done it before it still took a few weeks for them to find their edge. But in typical Storm fashion even though it wasn't pretty they found a way to win in the first part of the season and now find themselves clicking through the middle third of the comp. The teams strength is their game management. Smith and Cronk never panic and they know if they are in control of the ball and they have 6 or 8 points on an opposition that is enough for them to win. The Cowboys must be wary of Melbourne getting 8-10 points in front and then locking the game up. And they can do it 20 minutes from full time if they need to.
Their X-Factor - Munster. I mentioned him earlier and he is really coming into his own in this side and in the competition. He is one of the QLD curfew breakers meaning we will not see him in a rep. jersey this year. But that might not be a bad thing. He can concentrate on the Storm. And come Origin period we might just see him in a pivot spot at Melbourne while Cronk is out. Look for Munster to pop up on Cronk and Smith's hip on an inside run. Cowboys small forwards will need to be at the ready.
The Cowboys: Healthy, strong and playing so consistently. They are coming through the rep period (although only one week in) unscathed. Against a team so structured like Melbourne, the Cowboys game plan needs to be to split up that structure. The Cowboys strength comes from their leader and if they feel like they are getting the Storm squeeze put on them it will be more about how JT leads them around the park. They usually go wide and out the back for points scoring (unless JT pops his short ball to Cooper). But I would expect them to play a little tighter this week. I would't be surprised if they try to put Scott, Tamou or Taumalolo over close to the sticks. Melbourne's defensive structures are a little different to other teams, Munster sits back at fullback and if they can pin him in a corner they might try to direct traffic back through the middle.
Their X-Factor - Michael Morgan. With out a doubt the most improved player in the NRL. And he was almost one of Australia's best in the test. He put Inglis over for a try and almost scored one himself. He will play two wide as usual and Melbourne need to be very cautious of his dummy and run. And expect him to run at Melbourne's big men Harris and Proctor and try to get them off guard. 4th man needs to be at the ready in Melbourne's defensive line.
The Cowboy's Representative Players From the Aus v N.Z. Clash, With the Cowboys X-Factor on the Far Right.I honestly can't split these sides and coming up with a scoreline the only thing I can think is that although Melbourne are hitting their strides they are yet to test themselves against the competition's benchmark. In a blockbuster and a match I am really excited about Cowboys to get home in a close one 18-14.
The North Queensland Cowboys vs The Melbourne, Saturday May 14, 5:30pm Suncorp Stadium. Check your local television guides for coverage.
NQLD: 1. Coote 2. Feldt 3. O'Neill 4. Linnett 5. Winterstein 6. Morgan 7. Thurston 8. Scott 9. Granville 10. Tamou 11. Cooper 12. Lowe 13. Taumalolo. Interchange: Kostjasyn, Kaufusi, Bolton, Hannant.
MEL: 1. Munster 2. Vunivalu 3. Harris 4. Hampton 5. Blair 6. Green 7. Cronk 8. Bromwich 9. Smith 10. Mclean 11. Proctor 12. Kaufusi 13. Finucane. Interchange: Bromwich (k),Glasby, Nichol, Solomona.