Rugby League

Warriors 12 Storm 22

Melbourne's stars back depth of squad during heat of Origin firestorm

MELBOURNE skipper Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk have downplayed the effects of an Origin hangover and backed the Storm to continue their ruthless season without the presence of their influential superstars.

Momentum and consistency can be derailed at this pivotal stage of the season as teams contribute large numbers of crucial players to the brutal Origin arena.

The Storm are hit especially hard. It is a common belief their success is built heavily on the ''big three'' - that of Smith, Cronk and Billy Slater. The threesome also form a key component of the Maroons' outfit. Given the trio's importance to both teams and the idea the Origin hangover will only get worse, concerns could be growing that the Storm might be on the cusp of a slump. The first week after playing at that peak level, players are still buzzing, riding high from the experience. But as the weeks roll on, that feeling can wane as the true strain begins to show.

''There's no doubt about that,'' Cronk said. ''I'd be lying if I said it wasn't like that. But that's what's required. That's life. That's the way it is and that's what is expected from us.

''Representing Queensland is a great honour and the same goes for [playing for] this club.''


Smith acknowledged the physical and mental toll Origin took on players. Last week the Storm had to play Brisbane, just two days after Queensland's series-opening victory in Melbourne.

''Myself, Cooper and Billy were feeling really good this week,'' Smith said. ''It was more last week, backing up two days after against the Broncos, we were a bit down.

''But Craig [Bellamy] and the medical staff do a great job with the representative players the last couple of years. They make a real point of resting us from training. Physically you can always get up for a game of football because that's what you love doing. But training coming out of Origin, it's such a big week … that can take it out of you.''

This Friday, the Storm meet Benji Marshall's Wests Tigers without their Origin stars. Some may suggest this would be the perfect time to knock over the NRL leaders, but Cronk has faith in the remaining squad to do the business.

The Maroons playmaker prickled at the notion Melbourne based their dominance around three men alone. ''These boys can stand up without us,'' he said.

''They've done that in the past.''

MELBOURNE 22 (W Chambers J Lowe C Smith G Widdop tries; C Smith 3 goals) bt WARRIORS 12 (K Hurrell M Vatuvei tries; J Maloney 2 goals) at Mt Smart Stadium. Referees: Matt Cecchin, Adam Devcich. Crowd: 20,487.