Melbourne can quietly assume prime position for a shot at fourth spot come NRL finals time with a win over last-placed Newcastle at AAMI Park on Monday.
The Storm have flown under the radar in the lead-up to the finals with much of the focus on the battle for top spot between Sydney Roosters, Brisbane and North Queensland.
Craig Bellamy’s side can put their finals destiny in their own hands if they can defeat the struggling Knights, and leapfrog South Sydney into fourth spot after 24 rounds in the process.
But Melbourne have battled to make the most of match-ups this season against sides lower down on the competition ladder.
Most recently that happened in their round 21 match against Wests Tigers, Bellamy and captain Cameron Smith describing the loss as “unacceptable”.
But the Storm head into the clash with Newcastle, the first between the two sides at AAMI Park since Alex McKinnon suffered his career ending injury at the venue in March last year, full of confidence on the back of their 30-2 last-start thrashing of Cronulla.
Especially in terms of their defence.
“We were probably frustrated with the inconsistency of our defence throughout different times of the year but to defend like that and keep Cronulla tryless after the eight weeks they have had, hopefully that tells us we are doing a few things right,” Bellamy said.
“The Tigers game was very disappointing. But that came after a few trips and a few short turnarounds. Looking back that might have been a reason.
“Our biggest thing now is to be consistent and have that execution and effort (against Cronulla) week-in, week-out.”
“The Knights have had a bit of success down here and always come down and give us a tough game.”
The Knights are coming off a morale-boosting last-start win over the Tigers, their first victory under interim coach Danny Buderus. Both Newcastle and Melbourne are unchanged from round 23.
*Melbourne have had the upper hand in this clash for a decade, losing just four times in 18 games since 2006, although two of those have come in their past three starts.
*At AAMI Park, Melbourne have completely dominated, losing only one of their past 12 games; a shock 18-16 defeat in the 2013 finals series.
* No team has played more MNF matches since 2007 than Melbourne, and no team has been more successful, with the Storm winning 25 of 40 matches or just over 60 percent
* Newcastle chalked up just their third win in 17 games when holding on to defeat the Tigers last week
* Kurt Gidley will equal Andrew Johns in second place for the Knights on 249 games in this match. Only current coach Danny Buderus will have played more games for Newcastle (257) after this match.