Defence the backbone to Melbourne's hot start
It's hard to remember the Melbourne Storm getting off to a worse start, but last year's minor premiers showed plenty of class to recover from a 14-0 deficit to keep their unbeaten 2017 alive with a 22-14 win over the Wests Tigers on Sunday.
The Storm made four errors in the first 10 minutes and were on the wrong side of a 5-0 penalty count as the Tigers raced out to a big lead, only for the embattled club to be run down by a Melbourne side that were never flustered by the scoreboard.
Melbourne's first-half handling was enough to send coach Craig Bellamy mad, but skipper Cameron Smith revealed to NRL.com that his half-time spray was mild compared to previous years.
"He wasn't too bad," Smith said. "He got a little bit fired up but he's certainly calmed down over the past few years. From the best I've seen, that was probably a five out of 10 so it was quite a low-grade blow up."
While errors hurt, Smith and Bellamy agreed that Melbourne's biggest issue was in defence.
The Storm conceded 14 points in the first half but kept the Tigers scoreless after the break – the third time they'd done that this season – which allowed them to work their way back into the contest.
As we revealed in our Stats that Matter story earlier in the week, the Storm have only allowed 28 second-half points in their past eight matches, and that's why, according to Smith, they find themselves unbeaten despite having had three tough road trips in the first month to Belmore, Auckland and Leichhardt.
"It's simply down to the amount of training we put into our defence. We emphasise a lot of our game around our defence," he said.
"It wasn't where it needed to be in the first half and Craig gave us a gentle reminder at half-time that we needed to improve. We knew exactly what was wrong with what we delivered in that first half and what we needed to fix. We did that and surprise, surprise we got back in the game.
"For us to be 4-0 having played just one game at home, I'd say we've gotten off to a great start to the year. The first two games we played were in ordinary conditions and we came away with two great wins.
"Last week we played one of the strongest sides in the competition in Brisbane and we managed to get the two points on the back of our ability to get through the tough situations. That's pleasing to know that we've got a mentally strong footy side."
Bellamy said he couldn’t pinpoint an exact reason why his side had been so frugal in second halves but was thankful they found a way to hold out their opposition after what he described as one of the poorest starts he'd seen as Storm coach.
"A lot about defence is holding on and gritting your teeth and perhaps our boys are pretty good at that. I'm not quite sure why it's like that in the second half, but hopefully we can find a way to do that in the first half as well," Bellamy said.
"It was a horrible start. I can't remember the last time we started as poorly as we did. We just couldn't hang on to the footy – I think we completed one of our first five sets so we were always going to be under the pump. Our defence in the first half was – I don't want to say non-existent – but our contact was really poor.
"Credit to the guys that they did turn it around in the second half. Our defence was a whole heap better than what it was in the first half and our attack came on the back of that."