The Melbourne Storm have been mixing their game up with some more expressive play this season but the Warriors are expecting them to be at their structured best when they meet at AAMI Park on Anzac Day.
So long renowned for their highly organised approach, the Storm started the season trying to vary their game with coach Craig Bellamy encouraging his players to use the football more to create second-phase attacking opportunities. The change has worked to varying degrees but at times Melbourne have looked awkward and disorganised. Regardless, they occupy fifth spot on the NRL ladder with five wins and two losses.
Despite their best attempts to branch out and play ad-lib footy, the 11th-ranked Warriors (three wins, four losses) believe that in the crunch moments, Melbourne will revert to what they know best.
"I expect it to be a real arm-wrestle and a battle," said Warriors coach Andrew McFadden.
"They always are these games. Melbourne play a pretty consistent game and it's difficult to play against if you're not patient. We've got our own style that we want to play but you've got to go the distance with them, I know that."
Predictably, Bellamy's side has looked most comfortable when relying on captain Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk to steer the side around methodically. Kiwis front-rower Jesse Bromwich has been outstanding in the middle and fellow New Zealand international back-rowers Tohu Harris and Kevin Proctor have been best utilised in their traditional roles out on the edges, with fullback Cameron Munster working off their momentum.
Five-eighth Thomas Leuluai acknowledges the subtle differences in the Storm's form but says the more things change, the more they stay the same.
"They've been a little bit different with some of the stuff they've been trying but we know deep down what they're going to be like," said Leuluai. "Defensively they'll be very solid, good in the wrestle, and good through the middle of the field."
Halfback Shaun Johnson says the Warriors are prepared to deal with both scenarios and are determined to apply plenty of defensive pressure.
"They've got both sides of their footy covered, but we're definitely seeing a bit more adlib footy from them this year so it's another awesome challenge for us," he said. "It can go both ways. It's either magic and you put the defence under pressure or you can overplay it and put yourself under pressure.
"We'll be looking to be up in their face and if they want to do that and try to go around us then we'll be looking to press."