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Dragons v Storm: Both teams adapt without Origin stars

Last week the Dragons got the win they needed to stay in the finals race, overcoming a disrupted preparation to beat the Cowboys in Wollongong.

But the Cowboys ain't no Storm and it's fair to say the Dragons have to approach Thursday's clash with the kind of intensity, energy and single-minded resolve more suited to a grand final.

The fact they don't have to travel and usually play well in Wollongong should work in their favour, but their opponents clearly don't fear being in enemy territory if their 6-1 road record is any guide.

The Storm held off the Roosters last week to remain alone at the top of the ladder and will like their chances against the hot and cold Dragons.

The Rundown

Team news

Dragons: The Dragons are 1-17 as named on Tuesday with Jackson Ford and Tristain Sailor dropping out of the reserves list. Patrick Kaufusi will take on his former side in his club debut for the Dragons. St George Illawarra have won seven of their past nine games at WIN Stadium. Lachlan Timm and Jordan Pereira were the two players omitted 24 hours before game time.

Dragons v Storm - Round 16

Storm: Marion Seve starts in place of Solomone Kata in Melbourne's only late change. Billy Walters will make his NRL debut at five-eighth. The Storm have won five of their past seven games against the Dragons. Max King and Harry Grant were the two players left out 24 hours out from kick-off.

Key match-up

It's the ultimate challenge for every hooker in the game - a head to head meeting with the GOAT. If the Dragons are going to end Melbourne's six-game winning streak, Cameron McInnes has to hold his own against Cameron Smith. McInnes won't shy away and Smith knows he'll be in for a tough battle.

For the Dragons to win

Whether they like it or not, the Dragons have put themselves in such a precarious position that they have to treat every game like it's do or die. That still might not be enough to topple mighty Melbourne but it's a good starting point. The Dragons have to be prepared to match the Storm's methodical power game but also stick to their own game plan and be ready to pounce on any scoring opportunities that might surface.

For the Storm to win

Since losing to the Sharks on the road in round eight, Melbourne have won six straight. Craig Bellamy sometimes looks angry enough to headbutt walls but he has his team humming along nicely toward a top two finish. They will look to wear down the Dragons with their usual uncompromising defence, while Smith and Brodie Croft will be keen to give their outside backs room to move against a suspect Dragons backline.

Brett Kimmorley says

The good news for the Storm is they have got Cameron Smith playing for them. The Storm were great last week against the Roosters. Ryan Papenhuyzen did really well for them in Adelaide. With the Origin players out, watch for others to step up. As for the Dragons, they are losing key players and I’m not too sure the depth will be there to cover for that. Storm by 6

Stat Attack

Brodie Croft might be too young to know about Terry Lamb but he does a fair impersonation with his ability to back up teammates. Croft leads the NRL in the player in support category with 244. The Storm boast the best attack and best defence in the league, with an impressive for and against differential of 190.

And another thing ...

Barring injury or suspension, the great Cameron Smith will become the first player to reach 400 games when he lines up for Melbourne's round 17 home meeting with 2016 grand final rivals Cronulla. Cooper Cronk has played the second-most games (362), followed by Darren Lockyer (355), Terry Lamb (350) and Steve Menzies (349).