Last season placing: 4th
Most pundits thought that the Melbourne Storm couldn’t make the top eight last season. Although the Storm emphatically proved their doubters wrong last season, the concerns over Melbourne’s title credentials haven’t disappeared for the 2016 season.
Often the epitome of consistency, Melbourne’s aging stars proved they could beat their title rivals but often struggled against teams languishing outside the top eight.
As the club attempts to improve from last season, it will be important for the club to manage the workload their aging stars in Slater, Cronk and Smith and find young players capable of mixing it in the NRL just as Cameron Munster did last year.
With Cooper Cronk and Craig Bellamy yet to have signed on with the club for next season, the uncertainty surrounding these two club legends have the potential to derail the Storm’s season.
Although it is expected Bellamy will activate a clause in his current contract that will see him remain with the Storm for two more seasons, the fact that talks have been taking as long as they have would be of concern to fans.
As well as Bellamy, star halfback Cooper Cronk is yet to announce his plans for 2017 with his contract expiring at the end of this season. His future is less certain and isn’t likely to be announced in the immediate future, with contract talks only in their infancy.
During Cronk’s absence due to injury last season, the Storm struggled to put wins on the board. If Cronk’s form suffers due to contract negotiations, Melbourne could struggle.
1. Cameron Smith
The best hooker in the game. Captain for club, state, and country. It’s hard to find a more influential player and leader in all of rugby league than Cameron Smith. The way he is able to lead his players around the field and control the game from dummy half is astonishing. Due to lock and back up hooker, Ryan Hinchcliffe, playing in the Super League this season, Smith’s skill and experience will be vital as he continues to be the heartbeat for the Melbourne outfit. Starting pre-season before Christmas for the first time since 2007, expect Smith to start the season better than he has for a long time.
2. Cooper Cronk
As previously stated, Cronk was sorely missed last season when he was sidelined by injury. While his running game isn’t the strongest in the league, his kicking game is arguably the best. His ability relieve pressure on his team by kicking 40/20s is highlighted by the fact the Storm kicked the most of these in the competition last season with five. Add Cronk’s passing ability to the mix and it is easy to see why Cronk was sorely missed by not only Melbourne but Queensland too when he was injured.
3. Jesse Bromwich
Craig Bellamy is known for signing forwards who have been journeymen and turning them into reliable performers. However in Jesse Bromwich, Bellamy has a genuine superstar to rely on. In 2015, the Kiwi international ran the most meters for any forward in the NRL with a mammoth 4118m. With plenty of young front and second rowers for the Storm, Bromwich will be the leader of the pack as they look to develop as first-grade players.
Likely Round 1 line-up: 1. Billy Slater, 2. Marika Koroibete, 3. Richard Kennar*, 4. Will Chambers, 5. Curtis Scott, 6. Blake Green, 7. Cooper Cronk, 8. Jesse Bromwich, 9. Cameron Smith (c), 10. Jordan McLean, 11. Kevin Proctor, 12. Tohu Harris, 13. Dale Finucane. Interchange: 14. Tim Glasby, 15. Kenny Bromwich, 16. Matt White, 17. Nelson Asofa-Solomona.
Story of 2016: This season could be the season that Curtis Scott makes his mark on the NRL. With a position on the wing up for grabs due to Kurt Mann’s departure to the Dragons, Scott will be aiming to have breakthrough season similar to that of Cameron Munster last year.
Chased by at least 9 NRL clubs, Scott signed with the Storm last September after captaining Cronulla to their first S.G. Ball Premiership.
Given the role of fullback for the club’s trial game against the Bulldogs is a big indication of how highly Bellamy rates the 18-year-old. With Munster and Slater both under injury clouds, Scott could make his debut for the club with the number 1 on his back but is likely to slot onto the wing if given the nod.
Ladder: To make the top 8
Predicted Top Tryscorer: Marika Korobiete
Predicted Top Pointscorer: Cameron Smith
Predicted Player of the Year: Jesse Bromwich