New competition starts now, says Smith
Storm skipper Cameron Smith has rubbished suggestions Melbourne are all but guaranteed the Telstra Premiership after a stellar regular season.
Players from opposition teams have consistently said Melbourne were the benchmark in 2017 and that notion has been well supported by the bookmakers.
Craig Bellamy's side finished three points clear as minor premiers in 2016 but stumbled to the third-placed Sharks in the biggest game of the season.
Smith told the media at the finals series launch on Monday morning in Sydney that last year's grand final defeat meant his team could take nothing for granted.
"We're in a new competition now and whoever is the best team over the next month will win the premiership," Smith said.
"I've learnt that from experience – both winning and losing. There are eight teams here that have every opportunity of winning.
"We're not going into this finals campaign thinking 'who are we going to meet in the grand final' or 'who's going to beat us in this premiership'.
"We've put a lot of hard work into getting ourselves into a good position with a home final and finishing minor premiers.
"The competition is quite even now and anyone can beat any team on their day."
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The Australian skipper maintained it was hard to compare previous Storm sides with the current group, but admitted there was a special feeling around camp.
"The game has change a lot since I first started playing and even over the last three seasons," he said.
"But I guess over the last few seasons this is the most consistent side that we've had.
"From the oldest to the youngest, everyone has played extremely well this year and done their part.
"To have 20 wins in this competition these days is a remarkable achievement.
"We know we've got a talented and capable football side, but the challenge is now to go out and play our best for the remaining four weeks."
In comparison to last season, Melbourne look far more dangerous out wide with Billy Slater and Josh Addo-Carr added to the side.
Meanwhile rising star Curtis Scott has filled the injury void left by Cheyse Blair with ease.
While the future of Slater beyond this season remains up in the air, Smith could offer little on whether the former Australian Test fullback would play on another season.
"He's in some of the best form of his career and is getting up for all the training sessions and games," Smith said of Slater.
"Physically he's doing a good job and is enjoying his football thoroughly, but I just don't know.
"It's all about whether he thinks he can get through another season, that's what it will come down to."
On Saturday night Melbourne faces a Parramatta Eels outfit full of confidence after winning the last encounter between the sides at AAMI Park.
The verbal exchanges have already begun after Bellamy unleashed on the Eels' defensive style of wrestling in the ruck after watching the replay when the teams met back in July.
Smith backed the comments from Bellamy although he missed that clash due to Origin commitments.
"He might have been frustrated that every finals campaign we enter into there's always something that is said about the way we play," Smith said of Bellamy.
"Craig looks at a lot of vision of all teams, I don't look at it as much as he does.
"If Craig makes those comments he wouldn't be far off the mark."