As St George Illawarra shake off their "May premiers" tag to have the joint venture's best-ever start to an NRL season, Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy says they will be feeling the strain of representative season for the first time in a while.
Heading into Thursday's clash between the two competition heavyweights, the Dragons are outright first with a 12-3 record, two points clear of South Sydney.
But a taxing final third of the regular season awaits Paul McGregor's side as they face an Origin drain they haven't felt in seven years.
The Dragons will be missing Ben Hunt, Paul Vaughan, Tyson Frizell, Jack de Belin and Tariq Sims when they meet the Storm at AAMI Park.
Not since 2011, when they had eight Origin players in their ranks, have the Dragons had so many players absent due to Origin.
In addition, Gareth Widdop, James Graham and Leeon Ah Mau endured a demanding travel schedule to take part in the mid-season Denver Test.
Bellamy has not wavered from his belief that the Dragons are the competition benchmark, a statement he made after they beat the Storm 34-14 in round nine.
But he says they now have to face the rep consequences.
"I don't think they've had a big representation in Origin in the past few years," Bellamy said.
"This year they have ... it's a new experience for them this year, having so many guys in rep footy.
"If you've got a lot of players playing Origin, that really affects you. I think they'll find it'll probably affect them after Origin too. Sometimes if you're playing your first Origin series, it takes a lot out of you physically and mentally.
"I'm sure they'll be there when the whips are cracking at the end because they played well at the start of the season."
The Dragons did show signs of rust in their last-gasp 20-18 win over last-placed Parramatta last week, with McGregor later conceding they were "out-enthused".
While they have faded out badly in previous seasons, after leading the competition in the early months, McGregor has put a lot of time and attention into navigating the representative period.
"It's a different challenge than we've had," McGregor said.
"There's a lot of excitement in the sheds. Those guys have been waiting for this opportunity.
"The players that are here, the international players from other countries, and more senior players need to really hold the standards they've been playing with each week."
The Storm will have six players on Origin duty in Billy Slater, Will Chambers, Cameron Munster, Felise Kaufusi, Tim Glasby and Josh Addo-Carr.
STATS THAT MATTER
* Since these two sides played in the 1999 grand final, Melbourne have won 14 straight matches against the Dragons in Melbourne.
* The Storm concedes the fewest metres (1251 per game) and Dragons second fewest (1278 per game).