Having fallen at the final hurdle in 2016, will the Melbourne Storm be able go one further this season?

Last season placing: 1st – Grand Final Runners Up

Summary

After the opening rounds of the 2016 NRL season, the minor premiership looked to be a three horse race between the Broncos, Cowboys and Sharks. However, the consistency shown by Craig Bellamy’s men was unrivalled as the Storm overhauled all three sides to claim the J.J. Giltinan Shield.

This feat was even more impressive due to the absence of Billy Slater, part of an backline injury crisis that struck the Melbourne side. In typical fashion of Craig Bellamy, the low-key purchase of Cheyse Blair performed admirably in the centres, as Cameron Munster switched to fullback and rookie winger Suliasi Vunivalu excelled.

Although the 2016 season ultimately ended in disappointment for the Storm, it was a year of progress especially after the 32-12 thrashing they received at the hands of the Cowboys in the 2015 preliminary final. With a host of young forwards looking to make an impact and the progress of Cameron Munster, there appears to be life at the Storm when the trio of Smith, Cronk and Slater decide to retire.

Key Players

Cameron Smith

The Australian, Queensland and Melbourne captain is arguably the greatest hooker the game has ever seen. For the Storm to have a successful season, the ultra consistent rake needs to remain injury free. The energy Smith brings to both attack and defence is unparalleled. In 2016, he managed to set up 18 tries for his teammates while also averaging over 40 tackles per match, in what was considered an average year by his standards.

Cameron Munster

After two successful seasons at fullback, Cameron Munster is expected to slot into the five-eighth jersey that was vacated by Blake Green. Although Bellamy has stated that it is possible for Munster to play at fullback until Slater is ready to return to the NRL, it appears that Young Tonupaipea will claim the role of fullback. With Munster being the Storm’s best attacking weapon in 2016, will the move pay dividends? If it doesn’t the Storm could struggle to make the eight.

Jesse Bromwich

With Kevin Proctor joining the Titans and Tohu Harris expected to miss almost two months of the season due to a stress fracture in his left foot, Bromwich needs to lift his game to another level. Already the New Zealand Captain, Bromwich clearly has exceptional leadership qualities and leading a young forward pack will provide him with a tough challenge. The club’s player of the year for the last three seasons provided the Storm with plenty of power in the middle, averaging close to 150m per game as well as scoring five tries.

Story of 2017

With the club carefully planning for life without their three veterans, does Slater deserve to reclaim the fullback jersey? As already mentioned it appears that the fullback jersey is Slater’s when he is fit but moving Munster to five-eighth is reminiscent of when Greg Inglis moved to the position in 2007. The superstar struggled in the position throughout the season, albeit claiming the Clive Churchill Medal that year.

If Slater is unable to return, it remains unclear if the Storm sees Munster as a long-term five-eighth or fullback. Fullback appears the logical conclusion where Munster’s ability to pierce the defensive line as well as score and set up tries has already proven a success.

With Queensland Under 20s playmaker, Bodie Croft on the fringes of NRL football, it’ll be interesting to see how long Bellamy gives Munster at five-eighth if he does struggle to come to terms with the demands of the role.

Predictions:

League Table: 4th

Top Try Scorer: Suliasi Vunivalu

Top Point Scorer: Cameron Smith

Player of the Year: Jesse Bromwich