There’s only one thing Melbourne Storm enforcer Nelson Asofa-Solomona has on his mind ahead of Friday’s preliminary final showdown with Penrith and that’s creating “chaos” for the reigning premiers to deal with.
Everyone at the Storm was smarting after the opening finals shutout against the Brisbane Broncos, none more so than frontman Asofa-Solomona who felt his team was “bullied” in the 26-0 loss.
A response came in last Friday’s narrow, last-gasp win over the Roosters to set up the clash with Penrith for a spot in the grand final, but Melbourne still wasn’t at its best.
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It’s been a trait of Storm’s season, which has been “inconsistent” according to the giant prop but provided enough wins to make an eighth preliminary final in the past nine seasons, a remarkable achievement given the challenges Storm has faced in 2023.
Those challenges, which include the loss of star fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen, as well as Penrith’s two wins over Melbourne this year, are enough to make Storm rank outsiders for Friday’s clash in Sydney.
But as he stares down the challenge of taking on the Panthers’ premiership-winning big men Spencer Leniu and James Fisher-Harris, Asofa-Solomona has made it clear what he plans to bring to the must-win contest.
“Just trying to cause chaos,” he said, declaring that playing in big finals was a key reason why he baulked at a shift to rugby union to re-sign with Storm.
“When you look at successful teams, obviously they have a system and you have to stick to that system. You’ve got to trust the game plan. And that’s why Penrith has done so well all year and that’s why they’re so successful is because they complete well, they kick into corners and then they just suffocate you.
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“That’s what we try to do also.
“But you know, there’s times when we take charge in the middle and we take over, trying to get quick play the balls, trying to create chaos around the ruck.
“That’s when we can pull the trigger. Getting down, getting up playing the ball as fast as you can and then you know whether the hookers get out or whether the boys are flooding that ruck area, getting over the advantage line and just taking metres, that’s how you win games.”
The lack of punch in Melbourne’s pack has been put under the spotlight in recent weeks with Asofa-Solomona rotating through starting both on the ground and on the bench, a decision he leaves up to coach Craig Bellamy.
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Asofa-Solomona started against the Roosters to make the “impact” his team needed and, despite more being on the line in finals, isn’t changing his approach or asking for more time on field to increase that impact.
“My philosophy is quantity over quantity,” he said.
“So I’m not trying to not trying to cut corners, I’m not trying to find ways to play longer. I just go as hard as I can.
“And I guess when it’s time to get someone else on, then he (Bellamy) does that. So it’s not about trying to stay out there as long as I can. It’s about trying to have quality when I’m out there.”
Success is ingrained at Storm and while Melbourne are underdogs this Friday, Asofa-Solomona said the “stars had aligned” to give him and his team a chance to do something special.
“A big reason why I signed is because I know what this team can do. I know what they’re capable of,” he said.
“I trust the system and I love the club.
“You look for these moments, you look for these big occasions and I feel like we’re made for this game. It’s all like this all the stars have aligned for this game.”