This week we take a look at what the Storm lack when Cameron Munster is missing, the good luck charm that is Jake Trbojevic and this weekend of closely-matched clashes.
We tackle some of the big talking points in the latest edition of NRL Real or Not.
The Storm can cover any injury, even Munster
NOT REAL: Melbourne Storm have a reputation under coach Craig Bellamy of having a system where new players can be slotted into key positions, without the team missing a beat. That may be true for most players, but they really struggled against the Sea Eagles without Cameron Munster.
There was so much more wrong with the Storm's performance against Manly than a missing Cameron Munster could be held totally accountable for. There was something seriously missing in the Storm's defensive commitment, several Manly tries were simply too easy. Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran are an experienced pair of talented halves, but even they would have been surprised with the ease with which they were sending teammates through the feeble Storm line.
Munster does bring with him far more than his attacking brilliance. He brings a presence that lifts his teammates and seems to focus their efforts. He has become a leader, the man the others will follow anywhere, the one to rally the troops when they falter. It is hard to imagine Manly scoring seven tries, if he was in the team.
In attack the Storm were slow to find their groove, with Ryan Papenhuyzen trying to run most of the raids, and looking rusty on his return from a long break. They did click late in the game when the Sea Eagles went to sleep, but it was too late by then.
We can probably put it down to an off night for the Storm against a very determined Manly side, with their finals credibility on the line. The Sea Eagles have carried a troublesome reputation of not being able to beat teams in the Top 8, so last night was an important step up. The thing is, with Munster in the team, the Storm don't seem to have off nights.
- Darren Arthur
Jake Trbojevic doesn't need to bust tackles to be a winner
REAL: It was a big week for Jake Trbojevic. The workhorse lock has seen his stocks slide in recent years -- while other, younger forwards grab the spotlight with explosive running games Jake has, at times, looked like a player of the past. Once regarded as a genuine star in his own right, now he was increasingly seen as "Tom's brother". In 16 NRL games this season he's registered just a single offload and zero tackle breaks, and that lack of penetration in attack saw him left out of the NSW side for Origin I.
But his return to the Blues side coincided with a huge, series-levelling win for NSW, with Trbojevic himself a standout. Jake finished the match with a game-high 15 hitups for 148 metres, plus 31 tackles.
And on Friday night the after hitting a comfortable advantage, the Sea Eagles seemingly collapsed without their no-frills No. 13 in the middle of the park. In his 76 minutes on the field Manly built an unassailable 36-12 lead over a sloppy Melbourne side. But in the final four minutes of the match the Storm did their best to assail that lead -- running in three quick tries for an 18-point fightback in a matter of moments.
The Sea Eagles escaped with the win anyway, but Trbojevic increasingly looks like a lucky charm for his club and state.
This weekend will have a big say in top eight, spoon races
REAL: The NRL has traditionally been a nightmare for tipsters (before the arrival of the six-again rule at least) and this weekend looms as another tough one to predict with not one, not two, but five battles between teams sitting near each other on the ladder.
Just two competition points separate top-four candidates the Cowboys and Broncos, while finals contenders Parramatta and South Sydney go into Saturday night's clash sitting in sixth and seventh position on the ladder. Two competition points split the Dragons and Raiders as well, with each vying to sneak into the eight at the end of the year.
Meanwhile it's a bumper week for the wooden spoon race, with Newcastle taking on the Titans on Friday night and the 14th-placed Warriors facing the 15th-placed Tigers on Sunday. The winners from these two games can push one of their rivals closer to the dreaded spoon.
Every round of the regular season is important in some way but this one could be a turning point for a lot of teams.