Storm ready to defend NRL crown - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Storm ready to defend NRL crown

By Todd Balym 08/09/2008 12:51:24 PM Comments (0)

Melbourne skipper Cameron Smith says his side is more experienced and ready to defend their NRL crown as they again start favourites for this year's finals series.

The Storm on Sunday became the first league team in over a decade to complete a hat-trick of minor premierships and are aiming to become the first team since the NRL started in 1998 to win back-to-back titles.

The Test and Queensland hooker said his Melbourne team was more ready than ever to tackle the finals series.

"I think this time we are just a lot more experienced and I think we have had a tougher season this year," said Smith.

"Every game we have played teams on top of their game and it's been so close but we have still been able to grind out the minor premiership for three years in a row and that is a great achievement for this team."

The Storm begin their finals campaign with a qualifying final against eighth-placed New Zealand Warriors at Olympic Park on Sunday.

It is one of four finals this weekend and unlike previous years when the highly ranked favourites have typically won, the 2008 series represents golden opportunities for the underdogs to shine.

The Warriors beat Melbourne 8-6 only six weeks ago and are one of just two teams to beat the Storm at Olympic Park in the past three seasons.

Second-placed Manly face a similar danger game on Saturday night against bogey side St George Illawarra at Brookvale Oval.

The Dragons beat Manly at Brooky earlier this year and have a dominant record over the Sea Eagles.

"We have probably flown under the radar a bit this year," said Dragons captain Mark Gasnier.

"We have got a lot of confidence within each other."

Third-placed Cronulla face a tricky first up test on Saturday at Toyota Stadium with the NRL's second best attacking team Canberra set to test the Sharks' vaunted defence.

In Friday's first qualifying final the Sydney Roosters host Brisbane at the Sydney Football Stadium in a fourth versus fifth battle.

And just like the top two qualifiers, the Roosters have every reason to fear the Broncos as the 2006 premiers beat them at the SFS in their only encounter this year and have won every contest between the two clubs at this ground since 2003.

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