Rugby League


Waqa right to take his place

MELBOURNE Storm is expected to go into Sunday's NRL grand final against Canterbury at full strength, with winger Sisa Waqa training strongly at a closed session in Sydney, football operations manager Frank Ponissi said yesterday.

Waqa was the Storm's main injury concern, with the 25-year-old jarring his knee at a training session last week and missing the preliminary-final win against Manly. Ponissi said Waqa had shown no problems and was expected to take his place.

Meanwhile, Storm skipper Cameron Smith said he was expecting the atmosphere around the team to soon approach something similar to a state of origin.

The Storm was likely to get a taste of the increased intensity when it shifts its base from next to the beach at Coogee to Homebush tomorrow. Smith, who has been integral to Queensland's seven consecutive origin series wins over New South Wales, said facing a hostile crowd at ANZ Stadium would be tough but his team, which includes some younger players, would not be overawed.

"I can tell you once we get out towards Homebush and we're at ANZ Stadium on Sunday, I think we'll get that feeling of what it's like when you play state of origin," said Smith at yesterday's press conference after the NRL grand final breakfast. "It can be a very hostile environment and it takes a bit of character to get past that and worry about your own game and not to worry about what's happening in the crowd or what they're yelling out from the stands. But I'm pretty confident that with the guys we've got at the club now, we can get past that and just go out there and play our game."

Smith said it had been the Bulldogs' improved defence this season that had most impressed him and had stood out when the minor premiers beat the Storm 20-4 in Mackay in round 16.

"We had four or five sets consecutively on their line and we didn't get over and that was probably what won them the game, that five or six-minute period where they just defended their line and kicked long and got back field position," Smith said. "It's more of an attitude than anything that they've improved."