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Melbourne’s quest for a 10th straight round one victory will face its biggest test when they line up against traditional rivals Manly at Brookvale Oval on Saturday night.
The Storm have become the kings of strong starts, winning their first game of the season every year since 2005, including three on the back of arduous trips to England for the World Club Challenge.
The next best active round one winning streak belongs to Manly, who are the only other team to have won their two most recent opening round fixtures of the year. The fact that no other team in the NRL has registered back-to-back opening round wins over the past two years highlights the enormity of what coach Craig Bellamy has achieved with the Storm.
Football manager Frank Ponissi, who has been at the Storm for six of the nine victories, is adamant this year’s opening round clash against arch rivals Manly is by far the most difficult assignment. ”I have to say we’ve had some tough starts to the season but I think this is going to be the toughest of the lot – Manly at Brookie,” Ponissi said. ”With all due respect to the nine teams we’ve played over the nine years, because we’ve had some tough battles away and at home against good opposition, but this takes the cake. This is my seventh year and I can’t think of anything harder to start the year then Manly at Brookie. I hope the record means something.”
The last time Melbourne played Manly in the opening round of the season was in 2011.
On that occasion it was Bellamy’s men who overcame Des Hasler’s Sea Eagles 18-6, however that match was played in Melbourne’s backyard at AAMI Park.
Brookvale Oval, which has played host to several nail-biting and physical encounters between the two teams, is one of the most difficult grounds in the NRL for opposition teams to leave with two competition points.
”The last couple of years we seem to get Manly at the back end of the year at Brookie when they are firing heading into the semis,” Ponissi said. ”To be brutally honest with you, whether you play them round one, round 13 or round 26, they are tough to beat at Brookie. I think this will be the biggest challenge to our record of nine. The three coming back from England have been great, but if we can make it 10, this one would be pretty unique and special.”
Melbourne last lost their first game of the year in 2004, but that 36-26 loss to Newcastle was actually played in round two because the Storm had a bye in round one of the then 15-team competition.
Therefore the Storm haven’t lost a round one game since 2001, when a Willie Mason-inspired Canterbury claimed a 14-10 victory at Etihad Stadium.
”One thing about Craig is that he never lets the side get ahead of itself,” Ponissi said. ”In pre-season everything is geared for round one. That’s what I suppose is spoken about a fair bit – making sure we have the best preparation possible for round one.
”Three of those nine wins were on the back of trips to England, which are never easy to come back from. The travel and the change of temperature and everything else makes it a lot more difficult. I think winning those games coming back from England were the highlight of the nine we’ve won. It’s a record that has never been discussed or that we even knew about. But it’s a pretty good effort and says a lot about the culture at the club.”
Twitter – @MichaelChammas
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.