Melbourne are favourites to defend their NRL premiership this year with a poll of finals’ captains suggesting the Storm will dominate.
Six of the eight NRL captains to contest the finals series named Melbourne as their most likely grand final opponent in a poll conducted by AAP on Monday.
Melbourne skipper Cameron Smith said he’d put his money on Manly while New Zealand Warriors skipper Steve Price tipped 2006 champions Brisbane, mainly because his side plans to dent the Storm’s momentum in their qualifying final this Sunday.
Six captains also tipped a Storm player — either Greg Inglis, Cameron Smith or Billy Slater — to dominate the finals series.
Slater was also named the favourite to claim the Dally M medal as the year’s best player on Tuesday night.
Cronulla captain Paul Gallen said it was simply impossible to overlook Melbourne’s stunning form after they belted South Sydney 42-4 last night to capture a third successive NRL minor premiership.
“It has to be Melbourne at the moment,” said Gallen.
“They’re scoring tries at will at the moment and they deserve to be favourites I think.”
Smith said premiership favouritism sits easier with his team than in the past as they’re more experienced to cope with the finals pressure.
The Test and Queensland hooker said Melbourne had yet to discuss going back-to-back but rather wanted to build a dynasty — even though they’ll lose more stars this season including Israel Folau, Michael Crocker and Matt Geyer.
“We have spoken about being a dominant team of the 2000s but there is no talk of back-to-back or anything like that,” said Smith.
“If you start worrying about lifting the trophy at the end of the day you find yourself quite easily out in the semi-finals.
“Just looking at the teams in the top eight I think we have been beaten by a few of them this year already so I’m not saying it’s going to be us or Manly in the final or whoever.
“It is just who plays the best in this finals series is going to (win it).
“We are aware that we’re losing players but we haven’t spoken about not being as good a team next season.
“We just have to try and grab this while we have the opportunity.”
2006 premiers Brisbane were rated the biggest dark horses of the finals series along with under-achieving St George Illawarra and title-less Cronulla.
“(The Dragons) are really tough and I thought that if they can sneak into the top six they would be a fair chance,” said Gallen.
“It might be a bit tough from seventh but I think them and Brisbane are probably the dark horses.”
Dragons captain Mark Gasnier insisted his side could not only stun Manly on Saturday night at Brookvale Oval but also threaten for the title in a perfect farewell for himself, Jason Ryles and coach Nathan Brown.
“I think at our best we can,” he said.
“I think we have flown under the radar at bit this year in comparison to 2005 and 2006 because we don’t have the names we have.
“We have a lot of confidence in each other and I know one thing we will do is just do our best.”