Ladder-leading Storm set to get even stronger
THE top defensive unit in the NRL is about to get even stronger with Melbourne Storm set to recall Christian Welch and Jordan McLean.
Welch (concussion) and McLean (strained calf) will again be named in an extended 21-man squad for Sunday's crunch grand final rematch against Cronulla Sharks at AAMI Park.
Both were named last week but did not make the final cut as the Storm opted for a more conservative approach.
First-placed Storm is the only undefeated team in the premiership race after blasting Penrith 28-6 on Saturday night.
The side has conceded just 48 points in five games this season, with the Brisbane Broncos (round three) the only team to breach the purple defensive wall in a second half.
The Panthers poured on the pressure - dominating possession and field position - in last 20 minutes but were unable to score.
Storm football director Frank Ponissi said the players could take confidence from another strong defensive effort - the hallmark of coach Craig Bellamy's style.
"It's just not about the two points," Ponissi said.
"Hopefully we're not in too many situations like that this year - where we don't have that much ball and we're camped in our own half - but if we are, at least we've got that self-belief that we've done it before."
Ponissi attributed the hot early season form - especially in defence - to the physical and mental toughness of the group.
"Defence is something that we really pride ourselves on full stop, whether it's first half or second half," Ponissi said.
"It's a testimony to the boys' physical condition because that's (second half) when you can concede points - when you're under fatigue as games get on and there is more chance for defensive errors."
Welch is considered a "very, very strong chance" to line up against Cronulla, while McLean is in a "better position" than he was last week.
"(McLean) can run but it's probably the volume and intensity (we need to see)," Ponissi said.
"Until he can get through basically a full session of running he won't play."