Calm and collected Storm captain Cameron Smith is keeping a brave face over the fact his side hasn’t played at ANZ Stadium in nearly 16 months, insisting the setting won’t be a factor in deciding this year’s premiers.
Compounding the intrigue leading into Sunday’s decider, the Storm will also head into their first ever grand final against a team that calls the Homebush venue home – with their six previous appearances in deciders all against teams with local home grounds.
Incredibly, the Storm have played at ANZ Stadium just once over the past two years, while Canterbury have played 14 games at the venue this season alone.
But when asked about the obvious home ground advantage to the Bulldogs, Smith remains stoic:
“We’re not too concerned about that,” he tells NRL.com.
“We know we’re going to Sydney and that’s just the way it is. In the NRL you play the grand finals in Sydney and no matter who you play, you’re going to be up against it, being a side from out of town.
“We did that in 2009 when we had to play Parramatta and when we ran out it was a sea of yellow and we managed to play well and get a win there.
“We don’t concentrate too much on the stuff you can’t control like the weather and the fans. You’re playing on a footy field. The dimensions are the same as every other ground you play on through the year.”
Smith said the Storm would not be using the out-of-towners tag as motivation heading into the Grand Final and added that focusing on the game itself is what has led Melbourne to an impressive 8-4 record on the road this season.
“We don’t talk about ‘oh let’s go up to Sydney and get a win’… we don’t talk about that stuff at all,” Smith said.
“That’s not something that motivates us at all. We come to Sydney, that’s where the grand final is played and we just go out to play our best. If we do that we give ourselves an opportunity to win the game.”
The Storm last played at ANZ Stadium in Round 13 of 2011 when they beat South Sydney by 10 points but the atmosphere will be a whole lot different this Sunday when Melbourne run out in front of a stadium full of boos.
“We can’t control how many Bulldogs fans are going to turn up at the weekend and we can’t control anything other than the way we turn up and the way we play.”
Meanwhile the captivating hookers’ battle between Smith and Bulldogs captain Michael Ennis promises to be a bottler, with Smith admitting his opposite number is a worrying opponent.
“Mick is a great player and his biggest strength is his competitiveness. He just loves being involved in everything in the game. Wherever the ball is, he likes to be,” Smith said.
“That’s both attack and defence and he just likes to put a lot of pressure on the opposition when they’ve got the footy and when the ’Dogs have got the ball he’s everywhere as well so he’s one of many players that we have to look out for.
“I’m sure as captain he’ll be pretty keen to spur his troops on this weekend.”
Smith denied it would be a heated battle between the two No.9s – but hinted that could all go out the window once the pressure-cooker of the ANZ Stadium crowd kicked in.
“He’s been pretty good when I’ve played against him. He’s never really said anything to me and I’ve actually roomed with Mick in an All Stars game a couple of years ago and he’s a nice fella.
“But I can’t tell you what’s going to happen out there… we’ll just have to see once the whistle blows and we’re into it.”
The Storm do hold a 3-0 advantage over Canterbury-Bankstown at ANZ Stadium, a fact that will sooth the nerves of Melbourne supporters. They won a 38-6 bloodbath when the teams last met at the venue back in Round 24, 2007.