'Squeaky-clean': Bellamy's stunning swipe at Sharks

Melissa Woods and Scott Bailey

The stage has been set for a firing opening to the NRL's preliminary finals, with Melbourne' coach Craig Bellamy all but accusing Cronulla of having their own dirty tactics.

Bellamy lit the fuse on Thursday morning - less than 36 hours before the AAMI Park clash - when he sarcastically called out the "holier-than-thou" and "squeaky-clean Sharks".

Prompted by Sharks coach Shane Flanagan's remarks this week that his team had stood up to Melbourne's "wrestle, push or shove" to hold their record of four wins from their last five against the Storm, Bellamy bit back.

"Most other clubs in the competition would be sitting back laughing about them calling us grubs," Bellamy said.

"They're trying to make out they're holier-than-thou and they're the squeaky-clean Sharks. Well, we all know better than that."

Craig Bellamy has fired up at the Sharks. Pic: Getty

Flanagan claimed later on Thursday those comments had been taken out of context by Melbourne, but that will do little douse the flames.

No love has been lost between the two sides since Cronulla's drought-breaking 2016 grand final win, with the Sharks dominating Melbourne since.

Paul Gallen and Will Chambers have an ongoing feud after the Melbourne centre called him a "drug cheat" last year - this season the Queensland representative was suspended for a crusher tackle on the Cronulla captain.

Cameron Smith was also sin-binned for the first time in his career following a tense clash between the teams earlier this year.

It's understood the Storm were also surprised by comments made by Sharks prop Matt Prior earlier this week, who accused Melbourne of trying to "wrestle your head off".

Melbourne have won 68 per cent of NRL matches during coach Craig Bellamy's 15-year tenure

"We know what we have to do," Bellamy said.

"As they have kept telling us all week we (the Sharks) are very tough, very disciplined, no I mean very experienced team.

"Disciplined? I'm not quite sure about that."

But Flanagan insisted he'd at no point labelled Melbourne as "grubs" this week, and claimed his comments had been made out of respect.

"That message has got messed up somewhere on the plane down there," he said.

"We respect Melbourne more than we respect any team in the competition. We never spoke in those terms about Melbourne.

"We said if it comes to push we'll push back and we'll push as hard as they can push. But we respect that team and I respect Craig as a coach."

Banter aside, Cronulla's grinding style clearly works against Melbourne given they have only conceded an average of just 10 points per game against them in their past five meetings.

They're likely to have to do it the hard way on Friday night though, with Wade Graham out with his knee injury and fellow niggler and co-captain Paul Gallen losing the race against the clock to play.

STATS THAT MATTER:

* Cronulla can become just the third side to beat Melbourne three times in a season.

* The Sharks haven't scored above 18 against Melbourne since 2005.

* Melbourne concede the fewest metres in the NRL.