Greg Prichard, NRL.com
Melbourne’s swashbuckling Kiwi second-rower Kevin Proctor says the Storm are playing better now than at any stage of the seven-game winning streak with which they opened their season.
“The first seven games were pretty good, but they weren’t as good as the last couple of weeks,” Proctor declared, as the Storm prepared for Sunday’s game against Newcastle at AAMI Park.
“We’d put a 40-minute or a 60-minute game together the first seven rounds, but the last few games it’s been more like 80-minute efforts.”
Melbourne’s season to date can be split into three parts.
They remained unbeaten longer than any other team this season, coming up with wins over the Dragons (30-10), Cowboys (32-10), Bulldogs (22-18), Broncos (32-26), Tigers (26-12), Rabbitohs (17-10) and Warriors (28-18) through Rounds 1-7.
Then they were finally reminded of what it was like to lose, going down in back-to-back games against the Raiders (24-20) and Panthers (12-10).
After that, the Storm got back into gear with a 10-10 draw in a high-quality game against the Sea Eagles, before beating the Roosters (26-18) and Sharks (38-6) at their past two starts.
During the seven-game winning streak, the Storm looked like coming undone a couple of times, but survived.
They trailed in the second half against both the Tigers and Warriors, before winning.
“Yeah, we didn’t play well for 80 minutes against the Tigers or the Warriors,” Proctor conceded to NRL.com.
“We did for 40 minutes, but for the other 40 minutes we maybe clocked off a bit and didn’t really put in a full-game effort. But the last few weeks we’ve been really good.”
The Storm and Sea Eagles couldn’t be split even after 10 minutes of extra time.
“That was a tough game,” Proctor said. “It’s always tough, playing them. It had a finals feel to it, that game, with the speed and the physicality of it.”
The Roosters were in great form when the Storm beat them on the road, and then last Sunday night the Storm put on a clinic in the first half against the Sharks.
It was 28-0 at halftime, after the Storm had scored five tries, and Proctor described it as the best 40 minutes Melbourne have produced this season.
“Yeah, definitely, it was,” he said. “Everything seemed to go well. We had a really good week at training going into that game, and it showed on the field.”
The Storm will have to play games without their representative stars on the weekend before State of Origin II, against Gold Coast at home, and again before Origin III, against Canterbury away, but Proctor says the club will be well prepared for the challenge.
“We’ve got some good depth in our reserves at the moment, and I’m pretty sure they’ll be up to the task,” he said. “Finchy (Brett Finch) is an experienced campaigner, and he’s been waiting for a chance. He’s keen to get out there, that’s for sure.
“They’ve all been training really well, and I think they’ll make a good transition.
“Our Origin guys don’t ease off at training just because they’ve got the rep games coming up, and they’ll give 110 per cent against the Knights on Sunday, as usual. I think their mindset will be the same as it is any other week.”
Wobbling Newcastle have lost five of their past six games and slipped to ninth on the competition table, but Proctor says the Storm will be very wary of a team that is prepared by seven-time premiership-winning coach Wayne Bennett.
“I saw their game against the Rabbitohs a couple of weeks back, and the Knights were unlucky in that one,” he said. “They’ve got the players to win games, and the coach as well, so they’ll be tough to play this weekend.”
Proctor was in his debut season of first grade at Melbourne, in 2008, when Newcastle forward Jeremy Smith was in his last season there. Smith went on to have two seasons at St George Illawarra and two at Cronulla, before signing with the Knights at the end of last season.
Smith, Kade Snowden and Willie Mason – with the latter two some chance of a NSW call-up due to James Tamou’s suspension – are included in a physical Knights pack, and Proctor says the Storm are well aware it will be rugged up front.
“Jezza (Smith) is always hard to handle,” Proctor said.
“We know they’ve got some firepower in them – it’s going to be a tough game.”