Stat Attack: Warriors' defensive spirit catches Bellamy's eye
The Warriors' rapidly improving defensive unit has stunned Craig Bellamy and the Melbourne coach believes they will give his revamped attack their toughest test of the season on Wednesday at AAMI Park.
While the Storm have regained their attacking potency in recent weeks, the Stephen Kearney-coached Warriors have been one of the stingiest defenders in the Telstra Premiership, culminating in their upset win over the previously unbeaten St George Illawarra side last Friday.
Melbourne have won four of the past meetings between the Anzac Day rivals but the Auckland-based club is enjoying its best start to a season with six wins from their first seven games.
"I don't watch all their games but I can't remember the last time the Warriors defended like that," Bellamy said.
"They were outstanding. I don't know what the big fella (Kearney) is doing, but he's doing something right over there. And because of the occasion, it's always a really tough game."
The numbers behind the Warriors' defensive resurgence are stark. Conceding just under 15 points per game after seven rounds is easily their best record compared to the same stage of any of the previous six seasons. Their next best in that time frame was the 21 points per game conceded through seven rounds of 2015 while most years they concede up in the mid-20s per game.
Their attack is also on par with their best attacking starts of recent years, meaning their current differential of +58 is easily their best differential after seven rounds. Their +1 in 2015 was their only other positive differential in the past seven seasons.
After struggling to find cohesion in the early rounds, the Storm have racked up 74 points in their past two games, including a 34-20 win over the Broncos in Brisbane last Friday.
"We're not getting too excited as it's only two weeks of it," he said. "But a really good sign for us - we scored one try in two weeks (before the last fortnight), and then the last two weeks scored 40 and 34 (points).
"The simple part of it was we hung on the ball a lot better. But there are some other things to work on as well. It's been pleasing how we've responded. Hopefully, we can find that consistency."
Ryley Jacks put in another solid shift in his second NRL start, which was "a really important part in how we've played", according to his coach.
"Unfortunately for Brodie (Croft), when he was playing those first four or five weeks, the team didn't hang on to the footy. The team has made it a little easier on Ryley than they did on Brodie, so again, there are a couple of things to remember there."
The Warriors are without injured stars Shaun Johnson (groin) and Tohu Harris (concussion) but their replacements - Mason Lino and Anthony Gelling - stepped up admirably in their win over the Dragons.
Kearney said they didn't want to risk Johnson so early after his injury.
"We gave him every opportunity," he said.
"He did it at the captain's run before the Dragons game, which wasn't too long ago. We just didn't want to take the risk. The young fella (Lino) who's come in there has done a pretty good job the last two times he's been required, so he's looking forward to it."
Despite describing his side's 20-12 win against the Dragons as one of the best of his career, Kearney wants to see his team have the same energy and commitment on Wednesday night.
"I didn't think we were perfect last week," he said.
"I thought there was a lot of commitment and the guys were looking after each other in defence in particular.
"This week it is about continuing the energy we played with last week. We're up against a very good footy team, and playing on a special day for everyone, it's about making sure we take that into the match."