NRL: Big Three pose a big threat

By Michael Brown

Cameron Smith is best in the game, says Matt Elliott. Picture / Getty Images
Cameron Smith is best in the game, says Matt Elliott. Picture / Getty Images

Even Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy refers to them as the Big Three and the return of Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater has made a tough task at Mt Smart Stadium even more difficult for the Warriors on Sunday.

The visitors won't need much motivation after their abject 39-0 defeat to the Bulldogs in their last outing a fortnight ago - when they were without the Big Three who were on State of Origin duty - and Bellamy is aware they have lost three of their last four. Warriors coach Matt Elliott might have also given the Storm squad a little more ammunition.

"In my opinion, Cameron Smith is the best player in the game, not because of what he does individually but what he makes his team [do] and the influence he has on his team," Elliott said. "The other two can see the best player in the game from where they are standing so they have a huge impact.

"You take one guy out of that team - they played a grand final [without Smith in 2008] and didn't win that one - but you take those three guys out of that team and they are not a top-four team, maybe not a top-eight team.

That's not being disrespectful to the other players they have there, it's just acknowledging how amazing those guys are."

It's why Elliott isn't using footage from last weekend's game in his analysis of the opposition. The Storm are a different outfit without Smith, Cronk and Slater and they also get Ryan Hoffman back from Origin.

But the Warriors have traditionally done well against the Storm. They should have beaten them in Melbourne on Anzac Day, ruined their title hopes in 2011 and dented them in 2008.

They have recorded the second-most wins by any club over the Storm behind the Bulldogs and 12 of the 15 clashes between these two sides at Mt Smart have been decided by 10 points or less.

The Warriors also go into the game on the back of six wins in their last seven.

They didn't play well against the Wests Tigers last weekend but did enough in trying circumstances (they were coming off the bye and it was Benji Marshall's last game at Sydney's Leichhardt Oval, a venue they have traditionally struggled at) to win 24-14.

A lot of it was down to halfback Shaun Johnson, who collected 16 points and who has aspirations to be as influential as some of the players he will come up against on Sunday.

The Warriors have three former Storm players in their ranks - Todd Lowrie, Dane Nielsen and Nathan Friend - and for Lowrie it's a game he's looking forward to. Not because it's against his old club but because of what it represents.

"I think it's a good game for us at the moment, to play a top side," he said. "While we want to win every one, you want to know you are capable of playing the good sides who are going to be around in September. There's no point just getting there and being bundled out straight away, you want to know you can compete with the good sides. It's irrelevant who we are playing [this weekend], we need to win."

- APNZ

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