Storm vow to make Cleary’s night hell in preliminary final showdown

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Melbourne’s pack intend to make life hell for Penrith Panthers star Nathan Cleary in their upcoming preliminary final, but they say it’s nothing personal – just what they do to kickers.

A week after Ivan Cleary’s famous war of words with Wayne Bennett, the kick-blockers debate is almost certain to be reignited in preliminary final week.

Panthers co-captain Cleary is the most dangerous kicker in the game, with his towering bombs enough to put fright into any fullback.

But Melbourne prop Christian Welch is the closest thing he has to kryptonite, with the Storm star’s line speed making him the best in the game at applying kick pressure.

And he’s backed by others in a Melbourne pack who are experts in limiting kickers’ time to get the ball away.

“It doesn’t really matter who is playing at halfback, we are going to pressure them,” Melbourne hooker-turned-lock Brandon Smith said.

“Players like Christian Welch and Jesse Bromwich get (a lot of excitement) out of pressuring halfbacks.

“We’re just going to go out there and pressure them because that’s what we were trained to do, that’s what wins footy games.

“We’re going to pressure (Penrith halves) Jarome Luai and Cleary.”

Cleary’s duels with Welch already have some big-game history, and the Panthers superstar is far from Welch’s only victim.

Nathan Cleary in action against the Melbourne Storm

Nathan Cleary. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Welch gave Cleary little room as Melbourne won last year’s grand final, and he was at it again in State of Origin I last year.

The Storm prop missed Origin II when Cleary was able to kick freely, before Maroons coach Wayne Bennett is believed to have made a query about NSW’s kick-blockers.

Whether that worked or not, Welch returned in Game III to pressure the Blues’ halves and help claim a shock series win for Queensland.

Cleary claimed victory over Welch in Origin this year, but the battle is set to resume in Saturday’s preliminary final with a grand final spot on the line.

“You hear Christian Welch talk about (kick pressure) all the time,” Melbourne second-rower Kenny Bromwich said.

“It’s very important. He (Cleary) is probably one of the best in the game at (kicking).

“So it’s going to be very important for our team to do a good job on him.”

Melbourne aren’t oblivious to the recent storm around the Penrith kick-blockers, after Bennett made a query to the NRL last month – before his South Sydney team beat the Panthers in their qualifying final.

Smith admitted he was bemused and entertained by the Ivan Cleary-Bennett war of words, claiming all clubs flout the rules with blockers’ movements.

But Melbourne are putting the onus on themselves, and not the referee, to pile the pressure on the Penrith half on Saturday.

“I think it’s been happening for a while. Nothing much changes too much,” Bromwich said.

“So you’ve just got to get past them and try to get to the kicker.

“I don’t know what the refs are going to do about it but if (blockers) are there you just have to try and get around and put pressure on from another angle.”

Smith and Storm winger Josh Addo-Carr have both been cleared to play in next week’s blockbuster.


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