Forget the “Big Two”, Cameron Smith says Melbourne’s charge towards a third NRL title boils down to the form of the club’s perpetually underrated big boppers.
The Storm look set to finish inside the top two, and clinch an important home semi-final, after grinding out an 18-6 win over premiers North Queensland at 1300SMILES Stadium on Saturday night.
While the result was largely attibuted to the absence of Cowboys halfback Johnathan Thurston, Melbourne skipper Smith laid praise at the feet of his side’s forwards and their ability to lock down Matt Scott, James Tamou and Jason Taumalolo.
The Cowboy’s all-international middle forwards were well held by the Storm with Scott (82m), Tamou (78m) and Taumalolo (135m) lacking their usual impact.
Smith said they went into the clash knowing that while Thurston’s absence was going to blunt their attack, it would count for naught if they didn’t also win the yardage game against North Queensland’s much-vaunted big men.
“They don’t get any smaller and they don’t run slower because JT isn’t there,” Smith said.
“But our ruck has been fantastic all year.
“Maybe because we’re way down south in Melbourne they don’t get too many raps or the raps they should get but I think they’ve been exceptional.
“All year they’ve given Cooper (Cronk) and Blake Green and Cameron Munster opportunities to do their thing out wide.
“Obviously Jesse (Bromwich) is having a good season again but guys like Tim Glasby, who was back tonight, Dale Finucane, Kenny Bromwich – they’re all playing really good football and that’s what I’ve been really pleased with.”
The Storm’s defence is shaping as the cornerstone of their premiership charge and after provisionally moving into top spot, Smith revealed the playing group resolved to improve their standards after being challenged by coach Craig Bellamy in the pre-season.
Bellamy’s accusation that the side had lost their defensive steel has fired the group to top the league in most defensive stats this year.
Going into round 21, they had conceded the least points, tries and linebreaks, missed the least tackles, as well as boasting the best completion rate and making the least errors, according to Fox Sports Stats.
“In the last two seasons I think we’ve fallen away from our standards in defence,” Smith said.
“We always pride ourselves on defence.
“The coaches challenged us during our season review to make that better. That’s been a goal of ours this year and I think Craig would agree that so far, we’re achieving that goal.”