Cooper Cronk has promised to embrace Cameron Smith following Saturday’s NRL grand final qualifier, denying his relationship with his former Melbourne teammate remains fractured.
Their reward for a strong NRL regular season is a second crack in the finals, but Melbourne players across the board admit it will count for nothing if they don’t get out of the gates better.
The Storm went down 20-10 to South Sydney in Friday night’s qualifying final, the reigning premiers now forced to take the long route to the grand final starting with next Saturday’s home semi-final against the winner of Sunday’s Canterbury-Newcastle elimination game.
Despite a nervous start by the Bunnies in which they coughed up the ball and conceded a penalty inside the opening three minutes, it was Melbourne who found themselves behind on the scoreboard.
Down 14-0 at the break, they made a game of it in the second half, but left themselves too much work to do – somewhat of a common tune for the men in purple.
“It’s frustrating … I can’t remember the last time we scored first,” Storm skipper Cameron Smith said.
“It wouldn’t be many times in the last dozen matches that we’ve played.
“To get on that tryline (having conceded a try) after the first ten minutes and talk to the boys, it’s just the same old thing.”
Smith said it was line in the sand moment heading into next week’s sudden death match.
“Especially in the semi-finals, we can’t give teams cheap tries and that’s what we did at the start of the game,” back-rower Ryan Hoffman said.
“We put ourselves behind the eight ball and when you’re coming up against teams like South Sydney, they take their opportunities.”
Asked how much the defeat had set the team back, Hoffman said:
“Certainly (the hunger is still there), all the hard work we did at the start of the year has given us two bites at the cherry, but that’s gone now, it’s sudden death.
“We haven’t lost confidence in ourselves, we haven’t lost confidence in our ability.
“We know we can do something special, it’s up to us to do it now.”
Despite their struggles at the start, the Storm put themselves in a position to win the game only for the video referee to deny Billy Slater his second try midway through the second half which could have left Melbourne trailing by only two points.
That was little solace for Smith however.
“When you are playing quality sides like the Rabbitohs, it doesn’t really matter how good you finish,” Smith said.
“It’s how good you start and we started poorly – that’s what cost us the game.”