Melbourne have all but sealed the NRL minor premiership following Manly’s come-from-behind 36-18 win over the Sydney Roosters on Sunday.
Round 23 now looks huge, with the Storm meeting the Roosters in a top-of-the-table clash on Saturday night that will determine who wins the J.J Giltinan Shield.
With a 26-8 win over a depleted North Queensland on Saturday night the Storm opened up a four-point buffer on the Roosters in second and also enjoy a far stronger for an against record.
The Roosters are expected to get back skipper Jake Friend (broken hand) but are sweating on the fitness of Daniel Tupou (hamstring) and Sio Siua Taukeiaho.
Asked how his team could improve to beat the Storm, Roosters coach Trent Robinson said it was all to play for.
“It’s a mentality thing and there’s a couple of things technically which we need to improve on pretty quickly,” he said. “Sometimes you feel like there’s a lot (to get right) half an hour after a game but there’s not that much.
“Attitude will be an important one, making sure we get back up within the six days.”
Despite being the dominant team of the past dozen years the Storm have claimed only one title during that time, with salary cap breaches seeing them stripped of premierships in 2009 and 2012.
Melbourne want to send out Cooper Cronk a winner with the halfback expected to hang up his boots at the end of the year.
The match will be one of two top-four clashes next weekend with a resurgent Brisbane to take on a Cronulla outfit desperate to bounce back after their 30-12 shellacking at the hands of Canberra.
Makeshift hooker Ben Hunt starred with three tries in Brisbane’s 54-0 demolition of the Gold Coast on Saturday to signal they weren’t a spent force following the loss of Andrew McCullough for the rest of the season.
Penrith (eighth) will also face North Queensland (sixth) on Saturday in a match which will also have a big bearing on the make up of top eight.
The Panthers surged late to defeat Wests Tigers 28-14 on Sunday, leapfrogging St George Illawarra into the last finals position.
South Sydney sent St George Illawarra’s finals hopes into a tailspin after 26-24 defeat at the SCG, the loss compounded by an ankle injury to Josh Dugan.
Elsewhere, Newcastle recorded back-to-back wins for the first time in almost two years after beating the Warriors 26-10 with Brock Lamb starring with two try-assists and a four-pointer of his own.
Parramatta kept their top four hopes alive after stringing together their sixth win in a row with a 20-4 victory over Canterbury on Thursday night.