KICK-OFF: Tight win strengthens Melbourne title claim

LOOKING THE GOODS: Melbourne remain odds-on to claim the 2017 title despite a scare against Parramatta in week one of the finals. Picture: AAP

LOOKING THE GOODS: Melbourne remain odds-on to claim the 2017 title despite a scare against Parramatta in week one of the finals. Picture: AAP

THERE’S been plenty of punters who think Melbourne’s aura of invincibility was shattered in a tight 18-16 win over Parramatta at the weekend.

It seems a logical conclusion but, if anything, the Storm’s odds of claiming the 2017 premiership have shortened.

Credit to the Eels, they went down to Melbourne and gave the Storm all they could handle.

The way the Storm started, it looked like it was going to be just another day at the office. To only concede one try and then fight back into the match was no small feat for the visitors.

But did it actually reveal any chinks in the Melbourne armour? Not really. Some have suggested they looked rattled but, in reality, they’ve been so slick this year, we simply just aren’t used to seeing them win ugly. 

In the wider context of the finals, Parramatta have probably played the best game they’ll play, and Melbourne have most likely played their worst.

If there was any match in which the Storm were going to be slightly vulnerable, it was in week one. Yes it was a finals game but, there really wasn’t a whole lot on the line for them.

There was nothing they needed to prove, they just needed to survive it and they did. The Eels’ two first half tries came while the Storm were, deservedly, a man down with Cameron Munster in the sin-bin. They took their opportunities in the second.

They may have been a little bit off but when have we seen the Storm ‘off’ in consecutive matches? Nothing’s fait accompli in rugby league, but it leaves the Storm odds-on to win the preliminary final next weekend, whoever they face.

Parramatta now need to be wary. It’s one thing to acquit yourself well in defeat, but the tables have now flipped.

They’ll head into Saturday’s qualifying final overwhelming favourites, against a Cowboys side with nothing to lose. It leaves the Eels vulnerable to an ambush.

If they can get through the Cowboys, they’ll like their chances against the Roosters who were good enough, but altogether unconvincing against Brisbane.

They led 14-0 and then 18-6 and still found a way to be down 22-18 with 10 minutes to play. It was against a Broncos side without their most influential player in Darius Boyd.

The brilliance of Latrell Mitchell got them out of jail but, in what’s been the story of their season, a full 80-minute performance – the type that wins grand finals – continues to elude them. 

On week one form, the Eels have a more compelling title claim than both, but they’d have to be the first side under the current finals system to win without a week off en route to the grand final.

Brisbane are still sweating on the fitness of Boyd and he’s probably the man on whom their title chances hinge. The Broncos may get past Penrith on Friday without him, they may not.

Either side will need to pull a rabbit out of their hat to beat Melbourne a week later.

All things considered, the chips remain stacked in the Storm’s favour, at least in terms of reaching the decider. To beat them there will take some doing. 

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