It wasn’t winning the minor premiership or even the preliminary final that made Cameron Smith believe the Melbourne Storm could win the NRL crown.
It was their pre-season.
The captain said he realised before a ball had even been kicked in the competition that this year’s Storm side was special and could be premiership contenders.
Ahead of the title decider against Cronulla in Sydney on Sunday, Smith said he knew they were a better team than that which bowed out in the preliminary final last season.
“It was just a different feeling in the group this year, it was like we all knew where we were headed and were on the same page and driving each other to get to this point this year,” Smith said on Monday.
Following that loss to eventual champions North Queensland, Smith said that Storm coach Craig Bellamy and the senior players challenged the young players during the post-season review to work harder on their fitness, strength and mental toughness to be more consistent.
“They would play well one week and then the next week not play at the standard we needed them to play,” Smith explained.
“We challenged them to pick up their consistency. They worked extremely hard through the pre-season.”
Smith said he could see the signs during the pre-season that the message had sunk in, and the result is the best ever years for players like Jordan McLean, Kenny Bromwich and Ben Hampton.
“In the back end of the pre-season I saw a lot of positive signs in the group with the way they were training, particularly the younger group in our squad I thought they had tremendous pre-seasons,” Smith said.
“Jordan’s had a break-out season; he’s been in first grade for a couple of years but hasn’t really given us what we’ve all been waiting for but this year he has.
“So that’s a huge reason as to why we’re here this weekend, because those young guys and the way they have played the whole year.”
Lining up for his fifth grand final (missing 2008 through suspension), Smith said he felt “grateful” to have the opportunity to play in another.
He said when the Storm won in 2012 the team was driven by having their 2008 and 2009 premierships stripped for salary cap cheating.
This year it was purely about the opportunity.
“We talk about not looking ahead and one week at a time but when we’re running laps in the pre-season, in the meeting room watching hours of vision, our goal is to win the premiership,” he said.