Matt Encarnacion, Western Sydney Correspondent
Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy described Friday night's 27-14 victory over South Sydney
as their "best performance of the year" as the Storm moved into the top four for the first time since Round 3.
On a night the club celebrated Bellamy's 300th game as coach and long-time servants Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith and Ryan Hoffman appeared for their 1001st game together at the same club – a rugby league first – Melbourne backed up last week's strong win over Manly with their best defensive performance of the season.
"I thought our defence led the way, which is the way we like to play the game. I thought everyone put in a really big effort in tonight. It's quite humbling to be quite honest, the effort they did put in tonight," Bellamy said post-match.
Melbourne led 20-4 at the break but had to stave off a furious South Sydney attack that cut the deficit to six points ten minutes into the second half.
"[Our defence was] something we've needed to work on from the very first game. When we get into those situations where a penalty goes against us or a call goes against us, we needed to toughen up. And we've done that in the last couple of weeks," said captain Cameron Smith.
"Early in the year, a team would get a penalty, get down our end and score points whereas tonight they threatened our line a fair amount of time and we turned them away.
"You need to be able to do that in this competition. You need to be strong in your own end and turn teams away, have a good set and kick long. That's how you break teams, and I thought we did a really good job of that tonight."
The win moved Melbourne back into the top eight for the first time in almost two months, which is crucial with the busy Origin schedule just around the corner.
"Given our position on the table this year – I think we were sitting eighth or around that mark leading into tonight – it's great to get the two points, particularly against South Sydney," Smith said.
"And then we have a bye next week, so that's a huge win for us, really. So now it comes into the busy part of the year for us – well for everyone in the competition. We just need to keep performing like we did tonight and keep the attitude towards defence in the last couple of weeks."
Bellamy paid special tribute to his big four of Slater, Cronk, Smith and Hoffman, who became the first quadruple to reach 1000 games combined at the one club.
"I know there's been a lot on my 300th game, but it hasn't been so well advertised [that] Cameron, Billy, Cooper and Hoff, they played their 1000th game for the club tonight," Bellamy said.
"I don't think that's ever been done in the history of the game. There's four guys that have played 1000 games all at the same time at the one club. So they've been phenomenal for our club and not only are they really good players, they're really good people as well.
"It breaks my heart that Ryan won't be with us next year, but their effort tonight typified what they've been doing for the last 10, 11, 12 and in [Smith's] case, 13 years. So I think that's a thing that should be really admired in what these guys have done for this club. I've been so lucky that I've been able to coach them."