The Melbourne Storm came withing metres and seconds of securing its third Premiership in the Grand Final defeat Cronulla last season and will be hell-bent on getting back to ANZ Stadium on the first Sunday in October in 2017 and make amends for that painful defeat.The Storm were brilliant throughout large periods of 2016 being led by a bevy of young and mobile forwards to go along with the fantastic play of Cameron Munster, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk.
It secured the minor premiership via a phenomenal 19 wins and just five defeats as well as conceding just 302 points at an average of a little over 12 points a game.
Defence will again be the name of the game for Craig Bellamy’s side as it will look to strangle the life out of opposition clubs and then grind them into the dirt.
With a very similar roster to the one it had in 2016, the Storm are looking good for another push at the finals as it looks to secure its first premiership since 2012.
Why They’ll Win It: Melbourne has the best spine in rugby league and that is with or without fullback Billy Slater.
Slater’s absence has been off-put by the emergence of youngster Cameron Munster who has taken to the fullback role like a duck to water. His combination with Cronk and Smith has been superb, not to mention his immense ball playing skills at the back.
Along with Munster, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith control the attack for the Storm.
Their attacking prowess is second to none and their ability to create openings for their outside men create countless try scoring opportunities. They can control the game with their attacking play and that is what separates Melbourne from the rest.
Adding to this is its “super coach” Craig Bellamy. Bellamy has been superb since taking over the reigns as Melbourne coach in 2003. He has constantly brought finals football to to the Storm as well as creating sides that play attractive, attacking football.
His game planning and execution will be pivotal to Melbourne’s success this season and with one of the brightest minds in the game the Storm are in good hands for 2017 and beyond.
Why They Won’t: The Storm lack that x-factor in its outside backs and this has haunted them for a few seasons. In last year’s grand final, they were unable to break open the stingy Sharks defence and too much of the workload fell onto the shoulders of Cronk and Smith. Outside of those two and perhaps Cameron Munster, the Storm don’t have too many attacking weapons. This will hurt them as they still need to put up points even if their defence is as stingy as last year.
Key Player: It’s pretty simple isn’t it? It has to be Cameron Smith.
The most capped Melbourne Storm player of all time will again have to be at his best to help Melbourne achieve success.
His defensive work, leadership and attacking ability are all pivotal to the Storm’s chances this year. His ability to direct his team around the park takes pressure of Cooper Cronk not to mention his play making ability out of dummy half.
Despite being 33 (he’ll turn 34 in the 2017 season) Smith isn’t showing signs of slowing down and is widely regarded as the greatest hooker to ever play the game.
Rookies To Watch: Brodie Croft performed brilliantly for the Storm in its trial victory over the New Zealand Warriors on the weekend and is tipped to make his debut if Billy Slater isn’t fit for round one.
Croft who plays five-eighth and is a dynamic playmaker who laid on two tries in the 30-18 win over the warriors on Saturday. He has good vision and a good step which can fool even the toughest defenders.
If he is picked in round one, look for him to run the ball a lot playing next to the talented Cooper Cronk who will be organizing the attack.
Ins: Josh Addo-Carr (Wests Tigers), Brandon Smith (Cowboys), Vincent Leuluai (Roosters), Jahrome Hughes (Cowboys), Ryley Jacks (Sunshine Coast Falcons)
Outs: Marika Koroibete (rugby union), Josh Kerr (Dragons), Ryan Morgan (St Helens), Blake Green (Sea Eagles), Matt White, Francis Tualau (Bulldogs), Ben Hampton (Cowboys), Richard Kennar (Bulldogs), Kevin Proctor (Titans)
Predicted Line Up:
1. Billy Slater
2. Suliasi Vunivalu
3. Will Chambers
4. Cheyse Blair
5. Josh Addo-Carr
6. Cameron Munster
7. Cooper Cronk.
8. Jesse Bromwich
9. Cameron Smith (C)
10. Jordan McLean
11. Tohu Harris
12. Kenneath Bromwich
13. Dale Finucane
14. Tim Glasby
15. Christian Welch
16. Felise Kaufusi
17. Nelson Asofa-Solomona