Corey Parker: Sharks don't fear the Storm
And then there were four. I've always been of the opinion that winning a preliminary final is harder than winning a Grand Final.
At this time of year every player is tired and every player is sore, but every player knows that if they can get through the next 80 minutes and get a win then they'll get the chance to live out their childhood dream. Playing in and potentially winning a Grand Final.
If there's one thing we've learnt in 2018 it's that no result is a certainty and no game is won until the full time whistle is blown.
MELBOURNE STORM V CRONULLA SHARKS
Fri 21 Sept @7.40pm
What we've learnt: The Storm showed in their qualifying final against the Bunnies they know how to get the job done. The Bunnies were the better team for the majority of that match, but the Storm hung in there and when their opportunity came they took it. If they had lost that game I think they would have exited the finals in straight sets.
Strengths: Being injury-free this time of year is crucial and the Storm have the luxury of having their full complement of players to choose from. Getting Will Chambers and Nelson Asofo-Solomona back is massive for the Storm. They're refreshed, recharged and ready to go. The home ground advantage is also a huge bonus.
Weakness: The Storm have been outstanding this year, but they are beatable. Souths showed the blue print on how to beat them. Move them around and play second-phase football. The Storm's left-edge defence has also shown signs of being vulnerable during the season.
Key men: It's easy to look at the Storm side and point out Billy Slater, Cameron Smith and Cameron Munster, but if Melbourne are to qualify for their third straight grand final they're going to need their big men to step up. Craig Bellamy will be looking for Tim Glasby and Jesse Bromwich to weather the early tirade against a monster Sharks pack, and then Kenny Bromwich and Asofo- Solomona to provide impact off the bench.
What we've learnt: The Sharks are the grittiest team in the competition. They're the best at getting teams in an arm wrestle and wearing them down. Last week against the Panthers they raced out to a big lead and backed their defence to get them home.
Strengths: There's no more experienced team than the Sharks in this year's finals series. Paul Gallen, Luke Lewis and Andrew Fifita know what it takes. In saying that, the Sharks also have plenty of youthful exuberance. Matt Moylan and Valentine Holmes can break a game open from anywhere on the paddock. But the Sharks' biggest strength coming into this match is that they don't fear Melbourne.
Weakness: While the Storm come into this match refreshed and recharged, the Sharks come in battered and bruised. Wade Graham is out, Gallen is busted and Lewis is playing on one leg. The loss of Graham is a big blow for the Sharks. His second-phase play has always proven to be a thorn in Melbourne's side.
Key man: As with the Storm it would be easy to point to players such as Fifita, Holmes and Moylan, but Chad Townsend showed his importance last weekend. He's the Sharks' unsung hero. He has a strong kicking game and his game management has come along in leaps and bounds. It was no surprise that when the game was on the line last weekend it was Townsend who stood up.
Prediction: This game has all the makings of a finals classic. There's no side that troubles the Storm more than the Sharks, but with Melbourne coming off a longer break and with a fully fit roster I think they will get the chocolates. The Storm by eight.