They were beaten by South Sydney last Friday night but Melbourne believe they’re still a force to be reckoned with this Finals Series, with the reigning premiers declaring their current squad “more skilful” than the side that won the competition last year.
In a warning bound to be noticed by their Elimination Semi-Final opponents Newcastle this week, international forward Kevin Proctor believes those doubting the Storm’s capabilities this season could be left eating their words – just like they did following Melbourne’s mid-season revival and march to the title in 2012.
“I think we’ve got a better team than we had last year,” Proctor, a two-time New Zealand Test representative and 103-game NRL veteran, tells NRL.com.
“Skill-wise we’ve got a lot better team than we had last year – it’s just it was firing last year and everyone was just doing their job to a tee. I think we just need everyone to do their jobs to a tee now and we’ll be fine I reckon.
“Everyone pretty much backed us out when we were going through a little slump last year and everyone thought we were down and out we found some form going into the finals. We didn’t find the form this year, losing that match against the Rabbitohs last week, but if everyone plays their role and everyone does their job we’re going to be a hard team to stop.”
The mop-haired Proctor, who averages a tick over 70 metres and 25 tackles per game, believes the Storm aren’t far from rediscovering their best – they just need to be more focussed from the opening whistle.
“Obviously we had a bad loss (20-10 to Souths) last week… but it was just the start and we were playing catch-up footy for the rest of the game,” Proctor says.
“I thought we played pretty well for 50 or 60 minutes but we just let them get too far ahead at the start... We try not to play too much catch-up footy – it’s not part of our game style too much. We just need to work on our starts and I reckon the rest of our game will come through perfectly.
“You can’t give good teams like the Rabbitohs a sniff too early otherwise they’ll hurt you the entire game. That’s what we did last week. I think we’ve turned it around this week – we’ve started our training really well and I think that’s a big focus for us this weekend.”
The powerful back-rower, who suffered medial ligament damage in a trial game during pre-season and subsequently missed the first three matches of 2013, believes he and his team-mates are now ready to hit their straps. And, for the Te Kuiti-born Kiwi himself, he’s relishing the opportunity of acting as a mentor to some inexperienced players in the Storm squad.
“I had a slow start to the season with the knee injury but now I’m feeling really good – I think it’s that time of year: everyone’s excited about the footy, it’s finals time, everyone’s up and it’s a do-or-die game this weekend and we have to perform otherwise we’re on our Mad Monday,” Proctor says.
“I see myself as a bit of a leader and a senior player in the group now because we’ve got some younger guys coming through like Jordan McLean, Kenny Bromwich and Tohu [Harris]… I see myself as a bit of a leader to them.
“I don’t really say too much to them… they’ve obviously been picked for a reason and the coach sees something in them. I just tell them to play their game… and they’re in the team because they’re playing good footy.”
This Saturday Proctor and his Melbourne mates take on the shining Knights who last week battered and bruised the Bulldogs on the way to a clinical 22-6 victory in their Finals Week One elimination showdown. After a couple of hard-fought victories against Newcastle earlier this season (16-14 in Round 14 and 23-10 in Round 23), Craig Bellamy’s boys know what they’re up against.
“We’ve had two tough games with [the Knights] this year and they’ve both gone down to the wire,” Proctor says.
“I think they were leading in both of them too. They’ve been going really well and played really well against the Bulldogs last week, too. I think we’re up for a tough game this weekend.”
There are few tougher sides in the NRL than Melbourne, though – especially a smarting Storm outfit that isn’t used to losing matches in September.
“You’ll see a passionate Melbourne Storm this weekend,” Proctor predicts.
“We’re all pretty upset about the loss last Friday and I think you’ll see the boys come out firing and very passionate this weekend.
“All the boys’ spirits are pretty high and the morale around the club’s still pretty good and we’re still confident going into the game.”