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Big 3 make Storm NRL favourites again

Melbourne's big three - Billy Slater, Cam Smith and Cooper Cronk - all turn 30 this year but none of them shows any sign of slowing down.
Big 3 make Storm NRL favourites again
by AAP

By Melissa Woods

MELBOURNE, Feb 26 AAP - Melbourne's big three - Billy Slater, Cam Smith and Cooper Cronk - all turn 30 this year but none of them shows any sign of slowing down.

No surprise then that the Storm, with master coach Craig Bellamy freshly signed to a new long-term contract, are favourites to retain the NRL premiership title in 2013 despite another big turnover of players in the off-season.

If they do so, they'll become the first club to achieve the feat since the NRL era began in 1998.

That's just the sort of fresh challenge Bellamy and his big three relish - not that they'd admit it publicly.

"I don't look back too far and I don't look forward too far, I just try and live in the now," says Bellamy.

"We're certainly not thinking about back to back or September.

"We'll take it one week at at time; we always have and we always will and that will be our mentality."

The salary cap forced the Storm to again shed some premiership players with Rory Kostjasyn (Cowboys), Todd Lowrie (Warriors), Sika Manu (Panthers), Jaiman Lowe (retired) Dane Nielsen (Warriors) and Anthony Quinn (Knights) among the departures.

Their biggest off-field signing was that of Bellamy.

After 10 years in Melbourne the coach was almost lured north to the Dragons but his emotional ties to the club and particularly his players were too strong to cut.

They also have some handy recruits in veteran playmaker Brett Finch, back from Wigan, powerful centre Junior Sa'u and exciting backrower Lagi Setu.

They have already proven they can win with the new line-up - taking the World Club Challenge title over Leeds this month.

Skipper Smith said he had been particularly impressed by Setu, who spent the past two years completing a Mormon mission in the UK.

Before that the 24-year-old played two seasons at the Broncos after a two-year stint with the Dragons.

"Lagi's got great skill and he's got great feet; he's very agile for a big man," Smith said.

"Before he went away on his two-year stint he was playing for the Broncos and he was a great player.

"We've seen him in action in the trials and I think he's impressed the coach and impressed the boys in the team so hopefully we can see some big things from him."

In ominous news for rivals, Bellamy said the 2013 title, coming after being stripped of the 2007 and 2009 premierships for salary cap cheating, had reinvigorated the club.

"There's still things we want to achieve as a group," he said.

"We're all a bit energised by what happened last year.

"We think we've got a reasonable squad.

"We've obviously lost some players from last year's grand final team but we've got some good young guys coming through from our under-20s."

Smith said he was looking for his club to again get a fast start to put them in a strong position before the drain of Origin.

"It would be nice to go back-to-back, particularly for this place and what we've had to go through in past few years," the Australian captain said.

"But what I've learnt is that doing all the talking at the start of the year doesn't help you once it comes to the season.

"What works is working hard in the pre-season and starting the season well by playing tough and with a positive attitude.

"If we get some good wins early, it's always put us in a really good spot in the post-Origin period and leading into the finals."

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