Storm halfback Jahrome Hughes.

Not even Cameron Smith anticipated Melbourne claiming another minor premiership in such emphatic fashion this year.

The evergreen Storm captain believed his side would be in the finals mix - as usual - but didn't foresee them blowing away their rivals to nab first place so easily.

"I'm not overly surprised that we've been competitive [but] to finish minor premiers and to be three games clear of second, that was probably a little bit surprising," Smith said at the NRL finals launch on Monday.

"If you'd have said at the start of the year that's where we were going to finish, you'd probably say there's very little chance of doing that given the quality of the teams in the competition.

"I'm lucky enough to see day-to-day how much hard work goes into our training, our preparation and what the young guys are doing down there."

The retirements of 300-gamers Billy Slater and Ryan Hoffman and the departure of Origin forward Tim Glasby to Newcastle left Melbourne with the least experienced squad they've had for years.

However, the purple force has regenerated with players like Jahrome Hughes and Ryan Papenhuyzen announcing themselves as future stars.

Smith said the next challenge for Melbourne's emerging guns is to maintain the consistency amid the pressure of the finals.

Match: Storm v Raiders

Finals Week 1 -

Full Time
Storm

Home Team

Storm

Scored 10 points
Raiders

Away Team

Raiders

Scored 12 points

Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne

Match broadcasters:

  • Nine Network
  • FOXTEL
  • LIVE PASS

"We've got a handful of guys experiencing their first finals series," Smith said.

"Guys like Jahrome and Ryan have played some really good footy for us this year, so it will be nice to see how they step up their intensity and their performances.

"They just need to understand that the way they've played this season, they're going to need to do it a bit longer and bit harder for the 80 minutes.

"They've definitely got that in them. They've worked extremely hard throughout this entire season to give themselves an opportunity of playing their best footy."

Much interest will surround who Craig Bellamy chooses to play halfback in Saturday's qualifying final against Canberra at AAMI Park.

Brodie Croft had the responsibility for much of the year but Hughes - who started the season on fire at fullback - replaced him in the final three rounds.

Hughes's switch to the front line allowed Papenhuyzen to slot into the No.1 jumper and his outstanding showings have made it hard for Bellamy to push him to the interchange.

"Whoever's playing No.7, they know their role really well," Smith said.

"Both are very good players, Jahrome and Brodie, so I can't see why we're not a team that can take out the premiership."

The Raiders upset the Storm in round 22 (Melbourne let an 18-point lead slip for the first time in their history) but Smith said it would be unwise for his troops to fixate on avenging that result.

"If we think back to three weeks ago and use that as motivation, we're using the wrong type of motivation," Smith said.

"The motivation is now that we've finished minor premiers and we're hosting the first semi-final at home against a quality opposition.

"If we go out and play well and we're lucky enough to get a victory, we earn ourselves a week off and a spot in the prelim."

What also continues to drive Melbourne is the pain of last year's grand final defeat to the Roosters.

"It's always in the back of your mind somewhere. It comes up in stages throughout the season," Smith said.

"There's no doubt it's a very disappointing feeling to lose a grand final. I'm sure that everyone that's involved in losing a grand final, there's some thoughts and desire not to have that feeling again."

The previous three occasions Melbourne lost the grand final (2006, 2008, 2016) they won the premiership the following season.

Smith, who has played a record 408 NRL matches, agreed the trend is no coincidence but stressed the cliche of "taking it day-by-day" during the play-offs.