FAST RECOVERY? Mitchell Pearce could return from injury tonight.
FAST RECOVERY? Mitchell Pearce could return from injury tonight. DAN HIMBRECHTSAAP

Write off the Storm at your peril in big match

IF YOU believe the experts and tipsters, Melbourne has wasted its time travelling to Sydney for tonight's first qualifying final against the seemingly invincible Roosters at Allianz Stadium.

With no Billy Slater, and inspirational skipper Cameron Smith as "crook as a dog" after being flattened by a virus this week, the Storm has been given almost no chance of upsetting the minor premiers.

Despite losing hard-hitting forward Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (ACL), and also halfback Mitchell Pearce (hamstring), the Roosters are still hot favourites to win the premiership.

Speculation has suggested Pearce could be a late inclusion in the Roosters side, while Smith, who has not trained and has been bed-ridden all week, was reportedly "a little better" and would definitely take his place in the side.

The Roosters are entitled to be hot favourites, but Melbourne has a great record in finals under coach Craig Bellamy, contesting 11 of 12 NRL finals series.

In the club's 18-year history, the Storm has made the finals 15 times, winning four premierships - two of which were erased from the record books over the infamous salary cap rorting affair.

The Roosters go into the clash with their confidence sky high on the back of a 12-game winning streak, including a muscle-flexing 30-0 drubbing of defending premiers Souths last week.

Like Bellamy, astute Roosters coach Trent Robinson is building his own imposing finals resume, having won the past three minor premierships and the 2013 grand final in his rookie season.

In Melbourne's favour is its 15-14 head-to-head edge over the Roosters, including a 17-16 win in round seven.

Star prop Jesse Bromwich was the key that night with 147 tough metres and 39 tackles, and the Roosters' forwards will need to contain the Kiwi international tonight if they want to earn the week off and a home preliminary final.



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