The underdog New Zealand Warriors believe they’re heading into the National Rugby League playoffs in better shape than a year ago.

The Warriors only just scraped into the finals series, claiming the eighth and bottom spot with victories in the last two rounds of the regular season.

Twelve months ago, they had ended the minor premiership in fourth position, which secured them home advantage in the first week of the playoffs.

But they also had injuries to the likes of winger Manu Vatuvei and centre Jerome Ropati, both of whom are available for the must-win clash with title favourites Melbourne on Sunday.

Having beaten Penrith 42-20 and Parramatta 28-6 over the past fortnight, coach Ivan Cleary felt his squad had better momentum this time around.

“Although we went into the finals on the back of wins last year, I felt our form was dipping a wee bit,” he said.

“We also lost a couple of key guys, although we’ve lost one guy this year as well,” he added, referring to fullback Wade McKinnon’s suspension on a charge of spitting at a linesman.

McKinnon’s absence apart, Cleary has been able to name a full strength line-up.

But he didn’t downplay the size of the task facing his players at Olympic Park, despite the Warriors’ being one of just two teams to have won there in the past three seasons.

Few pundits give the Auckland-based club much chance of getting past the Storm, the defending champions and minor premiers for the third successive year.

Melbourne are chock full with game breakers, including hooker Cameron Smith, five-eighth Greg Inglis, centre Israel Folau and fullback Billy Slater.

Slater grabbed a hat-trick within the first 25 minutes when Melbourne ran out 32-18 winners at the same venue in March.

He was sidelined when the Warriors turned the tables with an 8-6 result in the wet at Mt Smart Stadium in July.

Cleary said it wouldn’t be a case of the Warriors’ defence trying to target any particular individual.

It was more about doing the basics right, such as stopping the opposition’s go-forward and putting pressure their kickers, so as to limit the opportunities for the opposition.

“Obviously, your kicking game is important with the likes of Billy Slater running the ball back,” he said.

“But there’s no real formula for stopping guys like Inglis and Folau. You just have to do your best. If you can limit the space they get, that’s a good start.”