Storm, Dragons prepare for ladder-topping affair
There isn't much time for the St George-Illawarra Dragons and Melbourne Storm to prepare for their top-of-the-table clash this Sunday at WIN Stadium.
Both sides are coming off bruising Anzac Day encounters on Tuesday in a quick five-day turnaround before their much-anticipated showdown in Round 9.
Melbourne scored their most complete victory of the season in an electric 20-14 triumph over a spirited Warriors side, whereas the Dragons suffered an excruciating 13-12 extra-time loss to the Sydney Roosters.
While the marquee match-up between the top two sides in the NRL loses some of its glossy appeal after Dragons playmaker Gareth Widdop's devastating six-week injury, Melbourne centre Cheyse Blair is adamant the Storm are still approaching the match with the same intensity.
"He's (Widdop) such a big part of their team and their attack but they're still number one in the attacking stats," Blair said. "They're the number-one attacking team in the comp.
"Widdop's a big part of that but he's not going to be there.
"Whoever comes in will fill in his role and play just as well as him. We've still got a big job on our hands."
The Red V will test their NRL-best attack against the league-best defence in the Storm who have conceded only 12.4 points per game. Melbourne are also showing promising signs in improving their eighth-ranked offense.
"We're not scoring as many points as we were at this time last year," Blair said. "The Melbourne Storm is based on defence and that's the key. If we can keep teams to 12 points or less, we'll go a long way to winning games."
With the added motivation of securing the win before the luxury of a break in the NRL schedule for next weekend's representative round, Blair is comfortable with the short week before travelling to Wollongong.
"I don't mind short turnarounds, it's more footy for us and less training," Blair said. "I had that (representative) round in my head a couple of weeks ago. You put in your big efforts in the weeks to come and then you get a break.
"The long turnaround last week, we went from Saturday (against Manly) to Tuesday (Anzac Day) and I think that's harder because you're sitting around waiting a long time for the game."
While Kurt Mann will replace Gareth Widdop for the Dragons, Kiwi international Tohu Harris won't be back for the Storm this week with the second-rower making his return from injury in the Intrust Super Cup.
Cameron Munster will start at five-eighth for the second successive time this year, which Blair says will further strengthen the team.
"It might take a few rounds to get a few combinations going but I've got a lot of confidence in what he's (Munster) going to bring to the team and what he can help with for this club," Blair said.
"He trained there all preseason before the broken jaw early in the season.
"He's still learning, he's only 22 years of age."
In a morale boost for the club, Blair's centre partner Will Chamber's early-season form was rewarded with his inclusion in the Australian Kangaroos side along with Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk.
Blair's own form to start the season has helped Craig Bellamy's side climb to the top of the ladder with a solid 7-1 record after he admitted his spot was in jeopardy early on.
"Curtis [Scott] was going to start at the beginning of the year but something happened in the trials," Blair said. "I got the position back and haven't let it go. Craig's put a lot of confidence in me and I'm looking forward to giving back for the rest of the year.
"[I'm signed here for] 2018 and 2019 and hopefully [I'm here] for the rest of my life."