Look out, here come Melbourne Storm

Melbourne Storm were just about unstoppable last weekend against Canberra and the rest of the teams headed for the semi-finals should be very worried. The reigning premiers had a similarly tough time last year, losing five games in and around the State of Origin series. Origin is such a draining experience, both physically and mentally, and even the best in the business are not immune to the toll it takes.

Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk have come through Origin without injury and looked like they were back to their best against the Raiders. Last season the Storm won their last eight games to lift the premiership trophy and they look like they could be on their way again.

This week Melbourne takes on second-placed South Sydney who are clearly struggling with some key injuries. Five-eighth John Sutton joins fullback Greg Inglis on the sidelines and they couldn’t have found a worse time to face the Storm. Halves Adam Reynolds and Sutton work so well together because their games complement each other. Reynolds takes care of the all the organising and kicking and Sutton takes care of the hard running and plays on the edges. I’ve seen a lot of replacement five-eighth Luke Keary and he is a great young player, but Souths really have to figure out how his combination with Reynolds is going to work.

I’m afraid the Rabbitohs will really struggle against the Storm and it will be part of a very tough run home to the finals for them. In the coming weeks they play the Sea Eagles, Bulldogs, Wests Tigers and the Roosters and with their stars missing you could only confidently pick them to beat the Tigers out of that lot. Once they get Sutton and Inglis back for the finals they can still turn it around, but there are difficult times ahead.

I think Souths will still manage a spot in the top four along with the Roosters, Storm and Manly. The bottom half of the top eight is a bit tougher to pick, but I think we’ll see the Sharks, Bulldogs, Knights and Warriors playing finals football next month. Every match for teams at the bottom of the eight is going to be crucial in the upcoming weeks, as for and against totals and the odd point from a drawn match will mean the end of the season for some.

The Sharks surprised me with their effort in New Zealand last week – they showed a lot of spirit in upsetting the Warriors. This week they are back at home against Newcastle in what should be a great battle between two teams in a desperate struggle to make the eight. Danny Buderus is playing his 250th NRL match for the Knights, an unbelievable effort from a bloke who has had two operations on his back this year alone. He is an absolute inspiration to the Newcastle club and I can see them lifting to mark this milestone with a win. The Knights must grab the two points this weekend, with their next match against the Storm. No team hovering around the bottom of the eight can afford to string losses together.

The Warriors know they have to bounce back after losing to the Sharks last week, or their season could be headed out the back door. They take on the Sea Eagles at Brookvale on Sunday afternoon in what is always a sensational match. Manly are really starting to look good and I think they’ll be too sharp at home, with their left-hand side attack of Kieran Foran, Steve Matai and David Williams set to cause Konrad Hurrell all kinds of nightmares. I have an enormous wrap on Hurrell, he is one of the most devastating runners of the ball I have seen, but he really needs some serious work on his defence and the Sea Eagles will exploit that weakness.

The Warriors can look forward to an easier run from next week on. They face the Panthers, Titans, Raiders and Dragons and should win the majority of those before posing a genuine threat in the finals. The race home is well and truly on and the finalists should start to rise from the pack in the coming weeks.

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