For so long the game’s dominant force, Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy admits the Storm have had to change their ways in response to North Queensland’s NRL rise.
The Cowboys ended Melbourne’s season last year with a 32-12 preliminary final victory, before going on the following week to claim a maiden premiership.
It was the seventh loss for the Storm against the Cowboys in their past 10 meetings – a reversal of the first 10 years of clashes between the two clubs during which Melbourne won 17 of 22 fixtures.
Bellamy said that finals defeat last year resulted in a change of plan for the Storm heading into the 2016 season.
“We’ve learnt a fair bit from that game and we’ve changed a few things, tweaked a few things because of that game,” Bellamy said.
“I don’t think what happened the second-last week of last year really matters a whole heap tomorrow night. Cowboys have basically got the same team but we’ve got a different team to what we had in that game.
“The lessons we had from that game, we’ve put them into place in November.”
Bellamy’s different path has started to pay real dividends in recent weeks, with the Storm scoring 80 unanswered points in big wins over the Warriors and Gold Coast in their past two fixtures.
That form has enabled the Storm to climb to third on the ladder, only behind the table-topping Cowboys on points difference.
Both teams head into the match at Suncorp Stadium – where the Storm have taken the fixture as part of a lucrative double-header along with Manly’s clash with Brisbane – with unchanged line-ups.
Bellamy says facing the in-form premiers in front of a capacity Suncorp crowd will be a real test for some of the younger members of his squad.
“It’s a huge challenge,” Bellamy said.
“They’re premiers and they’re not leading the competition for no reason.
“It’s a real big ask for our blokes but, as I said, an exciting challenge … it’s just really important all of our players, especially our younger players, really prepare well and that’s sticking to their routine, not getting carried away with playing in front of a big crowd.
“Make sure they grit their teeth, roll their sleeves up and get the job done.”
KEY MATCH STATS:
* Melbourne have won four of their past five matches in Queensland but have lost each of their two most-recent games with the Cowboys in Townsville
* The Storm are on the verge of history, with only one team – the 1919 Roosters – going three matches without conceding a point
* North Queensland have lost their past five matches at Suncorp Stadium – four of those by four points or less