Cronulla prop Matt Prior has added spice to Friday night’s much-anticipated NRL preliminary final against Melbourne by declaring Storm is the master of niggling.
Clashes between Storm and the Sharks have been feisty affairs in recent years and another tense clash is expected at AAMI Park with a spot in the 2018 grand final up for grabs.
Prior has warned the officials to expect wrestling and spoiling tactics from Storm as it attempts to reverse a poor recent record against Cronulla.
The Sharks have won four of the past five meetings between the two sides, including the 2016 grand final.
“They’re all pretty good at [niggling],” Prior told AAP.
“I think they practise it, to be honest.
“The little headlocks and arm grapples and all that little stuff – they’re pretty good at wrestling. They twist your arm, wrestle your head off.
“It’s all part of the game … you just can’t let it get to you. You’ve got to focus on the job at hand.”
The two sides have had a combustible relationship ever since that 2016 decider.
Words have frequently been exchanged off the pitch and tempers have boiled over on it.
Melbourne centre Will Chambers will return from suspension for the clash and earlier in 2018, he was rubbed out for two weeks for a grapple tackle on Cronulla captain Paul Gallen.
Last year, the pair were involved in a heated slanging match after Chambers was picked up by on-field microphones calling Gallen a “drug cheat”.
The pair are unlikely to resume hostilities at AAMI Park, though, with Gallen in serious doubt for the clash because of a shoulder injury.
Prior and fellow middle forwards Andrew Fifita and Aaron Woods will be expected to shoulder the load if Gallen does not recover.
He described the Storm pack, led by Jesse Bromwich and the returning Nelson Asofa-Solomona, as the standard bearers for the competition.
“As a group we feel they’ve been the benchmark for the last few years and we’re a team that wants to be in that category,” Prior said.
“When you’re playing one of the best teams in the comp, you’ve got to rise to the challenge.”
‘It sounds bad’
Melbourne Storm prop Tim Glasby acknowledged his side’s recent record against the Sharks was not ideal.
But he said Storm is not placing too much focus on the statistic, insistent that only fine margins have cost Melbourne in many of these defeats.
“It sounds bad – four out of five,” he said, as quoted by the NRL’s official website.
“But I feel like the games were close and we missed opportunities in those games.”
Glasby is expecting another fierce contest between the two sides.
“They’re an aggressive forward pack, but so are we. I think that’s what makes it such good games against the Sharks with us,” he said.
The match will be rugby league legend Billy Slater’s last in Melbourne.
Slater has already announced his decision to retire at season’s end and if Storm beats the Sharks, it will face either Sydney Roosters or South Sydney Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium next Sunday.
Storm is aiming to become the first club to win back-to-back premierships since Brisbane Broncos achieved the feat in 1993.
Melbourne has struggled to score against Cronulla this year, crossing for just three tries in the two meetings.
Cronulla won the first meeting 14-4, before stunning Storm at AAMI Park last month to win 17-14.