Last season placing: 6th (eliminated in Week 1 of the Finals)
Pre-Season. A hyphenated word that all footballers hate hearing. None more so than squad members of the Melbourne Storm. Since the arrivial of Craig Bellamy in late 2002, the infamous pre-season training has been said to be the hardest training of all NRL clubs, with rival players who have both joined and left the Storm over the past 12 years, testifying to this fact. Brutal, treacherous, inhumane, many credit the success of the Storm over a decade of distinction down to the hard 16 weeks of their pre-season. And 2015, is not about to let up. Disappointment and failure of their own standards and objectives is what fuels Melbourne. Finishing 6th in 2014, their lowest position on the Premiership ladder since the 2005 season (*excluding 2010) was simply not good enough. Whilst many aspiring rivals would have been rapt just to make the Top 8, not the Storm, who pride themselves on being the benchmark. With Slater missing the Four Nations and enjoying his first full off-season break, accompanied by a young, vigorous squad that is growing in maturity, 2015 is not so much about writing the wrongs or redemption, but more so improvement. Improvement in defence. Improvement in their execution. Melbourne will be hoping that not only the likes of Jesse Bromwich, Kevin Proctor, Will Chambers to grow another leg, but will be banking on the likes of Mahe Fonua, Tohu Harris and Jordan McLean to take more ownership of a First Grade side they are very much a part of.
Key Players: Whilst it is incredibly cliché, the Storm’s key players are of course the touted ‘Big 3’ in Smith, Slater and Cronk. Melbourne’s three representative stars are crucial to the Victorian franchises hopes of not only being competitive, but featuring in September and going deep into the Finals. Whilst now on the wrong side of 30, the fountain of youth and throwaway line of ‘age is just a number’ will certainly be being watched, scrutinized and tested by many experts, commentators and rivals alike. But there is one thing that you can never do, and that is write off a champion. The Storm’s ‘Big 3’ have proven that they thrive under pressure and love nothing more than to prove people wrong. With Slater having his first off-season in 7 years, Cronk having an extended lay off and Smith having ankle surgery which will see him well rested, it might just be the perfect tonic to avoid burnout, fatigue and revitalise their charge for Premiership glory in 2015. There is also a tremendous opportunity for young halves in Shaun Nona and Ben Hampton to finally make the troublesome 5/8th position their own. The sooner Cooper Cronk has a stable partner in the halves, the more dangerous the Storm’s attack will be. Cohesion in a spine boasting arguably three of the world’s best players is imperative.
Drawbacks: Despite some personnel moving on, there does not seem to be any noted omissions that will see the Storm suffer in Season 2015. The shock retirement of club and fan favourite Bryan Norrie will hurt Melbourne from perhaps an experience perspective, however, the fortunate signing of former test and NSW Origin prop in Tom Leroyd-Lahrs and late off-season recruit in Dale Finucane from Canterbury-Bankstown will certainly fill the void. With Premiership winning outside back Justin O’Neill also seeking a release to join Nth QLD, it provides a real opportunity for the next crop of exciting young outside backs in the likes of Richie Kennar, Hymel Hunt, Young Tonumaipea, Suliasi Vunivalu, Kurt Mann to push their claims for a position in the Storm’s backline.
Story of 2015: One thing that the Storm prides itself on is it’s well known ‘culture’. That being hard work; a strong work ethic. No cutting corners and every player doing their job as per Coach Craig Bellamy’s personal job description to each and every one of his players. That culture seemed to be wavering a little and certain points in 2014, with uncharacteristic defence and poor completions seeing the Storm’s premiership credentials questioned. However, a strong end and finish to 2014 see the famous culture back and restored with many rivals looking over their shoulders fearing Melbourne could yet again inflict pain and heartache come Finals. Bellamy will be ramming it home that they must avoid a similar start to their 2015 campaign and reacquaint themselves with that hard edged defence that the Storm has been well renowned for well over a decade.
Top Tryscorer: Marika Koroibete
Top Pointscorer: Cameron Smith
Player of the Year: Billy Slater