David Skipwith is the Herald's rugby league reporter

NRL: Craig Bellamy's ploy to play as many Kiwis as possible against Warriors

The Warriors are aiming to shut down Melbourne's trio of Kiwis test forwards Tohu Harris (above), Kevin Proctor and Jesse Bromwich. Photo/Getty
The Warriors are aiming to shut down Melbourne's trio of Kiwis test forwards Tohu Harris (above), Kevin Proctor and Jesse Bromwich. Photo/Getty

The Warriors well understand the threats posed by Melbourne Storm playmakers Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk, but captain Ryan Hoffman says their focus is on shutting down their trio of New Zealand-born forwards in Sunday's clash at Mt Smart Stadium.

The former Storm back-rower knows just how much his old teammates and Kiwis internationals, Jesse Bromwich, Tohu Harris and Kevin Proctor, relish the chance to play against the Warriors, and is banking on them being primed for another big performance as they look to maintain their unbeaten start to the season following wins over the Dragons and Titans.

Storm coach Craig Bellamy knows his Kiwi stars raise their game when playing in front of friends and family in Auckland, and Hoffman says he always looks to include as many locally-born players in his side for trips across the Tasman.

"Craig always liked to put as many Kiwis in the team as possible because he knows that they do grow an extra leg playing in New Zealand," he explained.

"They were always excited, especially Jesse, being from Auckland. And Kevvie's (Te Kuiti) from not too far from here, and even Tohu (Hastings).

"Melbourne have always had a strong Kiwi connection so I just think that's added to the spice of the games.

"Their strength is their forward pack. They've got a hell of a lot of internationals there so it just comes down to the guys in the middle."

Storm back-rower Kevin Proctor will test the Warriors defence out wide on the edges of the ruck. Photo/Getty.
Storm back-rower Kevin Proctor will test the Warriors defence out wide on the edges of the ruck. Photo/Getty.

By limiting the go-forward of the Storm pack, the Warriors hope to reduce the time, space and kicking options available to Melbourne captain Smith, and halfback Cronk.

With Smith providing a left-foot kicking game from dummyhalf, and Cronk's radar-like right boot at first receiver, the Warriors' back three of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Tui Lolohea and Manu Vatuvei will need to work overtime to prevent 40/20s. However, Hoffman insists their degree of success will all depend on their efforts in the middle of the ruck.

"It's not just up to the back three, it's up to the blokes up front to put kick pressure on and not give them three days to kick a football," he said.

"It's a 13-man job when you're looking after those guys doing the kicking and you can't just leave it up to Roger, Tui and Manu. The boys up front, we've got to do our job as well."

Storm halfback Cooper Cronk has the kicking game to torment the Warriors back-three. Photo/Getty.
Storm halfback Cooper Cronk has the kicking game to torment the Warriors back-three. Photo/Getty.

Former assistant to Bellamy and new Warriors defensive coach, Justin Morgan, has been sharing his inside knowledge of the Storm's tactics and helping the Warriors' fullback and wing men prepare for the expected aerial assault.

"I've been doing work with Morgs," said Tuivasa-Sheck. "We've been working together on how we can diffuse some of their kicks and return the ball strongly."

Meanwhile, the Warriors have bristled at the tide of criticism flowing their way after season-opening defeats to Wests Tigers and Brisbane, and Hoffman says they need to chance their arm with the football to help them find their confidence in attack.

Against Brisbane last weekend, they dominated possession and completed 30 of 35 sets at Suncorp Stadium, but could manage only a solitary try from dummyhalf.

"As a team we've just been playing a bit within ourselves and been a bit conservative and wanting to get that win.

"We know we've got the ability to get there and we know when we get that win we'll get that gorilla off our back and it will go on.

"But we need to make sure that we're playing our brand of football and not play as conservative, and play to our strengths."

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