Sharks star says the Storm practise niggling
CRONULLA prop Matt Prior has thrown fuel on the fire ahead of Friday night's NRL preliminary showdown with bitter rivals Melbourne, accusing them of practising niggling.
While the NSW front-rower expressed his admiration for the Storm, declaring them the benchmark side of the last decade, he also put the spotlight on their wrestling and spoiling tactics.
"They're all pretty good at (niggling). I think they practise it, to be honest," Prior told AAP.
"The little headlocks and arm grapples and all that little stuff, they're pretty good at wrestling, they twist your arm, wrestle your head off. It's all part of the game."
The Sharks have long highlighted the Storm's wrestling techniques, much to the annoyance of Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy.
There is clearly no love lost between the two sides, with Prior saying the Storm are masters of pushing the envelope and putting their opponents off their game.
Asked how he and his teammates maintained their cool in the face of the Storm's unsettling tactics, Prior replied: "That's a good question. I don't know how but you just can't let it get to you, you've got to focus on the job at hand."
The two sides have had a combustible relationship following their meeting in the Sharks' drought-breaking grand final win in 2016.
Words have frequently been exchanged off the pitch and tempers boiled over on it.
Melbourne centre Will Chambers will return from suspension in time to renew hostilities with Sharks skipper Paul Gallen as the sides fight it out for a place in the grand final.
Earlier in the season, Chambers was rubbed out for two weeks for a grapple tackle on Gallen.
Last year the pair were involved in a heated slanging match after Chambers was picked up by on-field microphones calling Gallen a "drug cheat".
They pair are unlikely to resume hostilities at AAMI Park with Gallen in serious doubt for the clash because of a shoulder injury.
Prior knows he and fellow middle forwards Andrew Fifita and Aaron Woods will be expected to shoulder the load if Gallen doesn't recover.
He described the Storm pack, led by Jesse Bromwich and the returning Nelson Asofa-Solomona, as the standard bearers for the competition.
"As a group we feel they've been the benchmark for the last few years and we're a team that wants to be in that category," Prior said.
"When you're playing one of the best teams in the comp, you've got to rise to the challenge."