Best defence I've seen for a while: Smith
Melbourne Storm skipper Cameron Smith has labelled his side's defensive effort against the Sharks on Saturday night as the best he's seen "for quite some time" and says it's a great sign leading into the finals.
Saturday's game at AAMI Park was more than your average Round 26 affair with the Storm sealing their first minor premiership since 2011 with a 26-6 win against a Cronulla side seeking their first piece of silverware in 17 years.
The scoreboard wasn't a true reflection of the game as the Sharks had a host of opportunities to score, only to be repelled by the Storm defence time and time again.
The visitors made five line breaks to three and were asked to make fewer tackles, but when it came to the clutch moments, they simply couldn't find a way through Melbourne's brick-wall-like defence until the game was already lost.
Last weekend's result capped off an incredible year for the Storm, with the minor premiers restricting their opponents to just 302 points to finish as the best defensive team in 2016.
It took until Round 15 – when they were without their Origin stars – for a team to post 20 points against them, and it's a number they only allowed four times throughout the year.
Speaking to NRL.com at the captains call ahead of the Telstra Premiership finals series starting on Friday night, Smith said his side's frugal offerings without the ball were all part of coach Craig Bellamy's plans.
"It's the best I've seen from the team for quite a while," Smith said as he described the weekend's defence.
"This year we've focused on our defence quite a lot and I think we finished the season as the best defensive team in the competition as far as points scored against are concerned.
"That was a message from the coaches at the start of the year [so it's great that we could execute those plans]."
The Sharks could have easily scored four or five tries on Saturday night, and while their execution was slightly off, a lot of their attacking struggles were caused by Melbourne's endless scramble.
Smith highlighted winger Marika Koroibete's incredible try-saver on Valentine Holmes as the standout play on a night full of defensive highlights.
Trailing 10-2, the Sharks looked destined to right on the stroke of half-time as a half-break by fullback Ben Barba opened the door for his outside men to go through the hands and score in the corner.
It wasn't to be as first Luke Lewis and then Jack Bird opted to pass instead of backing themselves, resulting in Holmes being belted into touch from a metre out by the flying Fijian in one of the try-saves of the season.
Melbourne's performance on the weekend evoked memories of their 2006 defensive display against the high-flying Cowboys when they held North Queensland to just one try (in the 80th minute) to stamp themselves as genuine premiership contenders.
Smith knows his side will have to be just as good – if not better – if they are to contain the Cowboys in Saturday night's qualifying final.
Their effort on the weekend will have them in good stead for the business end of the season, and having limited the Cowboys to just 22 points from their two previous meetings this year, confidence should be building in the Victorian capital.
"Scramble defence is a huge part of the game and if you can defend your try-line then you're going to be really hard to beat," the Storm skipper said.
"The efforts of guys like Marika Koroibete on the weekend were fantastic and we're going to need that again this week against the Cowboys because when they're attacking in that [20 metre area] they are pretty hard to stop.
"We're going to need what we did on the weekend and more to stop them."