As the National Rugby League season draws closer, we delve into the Melbourne Storm and how they will fare in 2019.
Whilst many thought the loss of superstar halfback Cooper Cronk (Sydney Roosters) would hinder the Melbourne Storm’s strikepower in 2018, their third straight grand final appearance proved otherwise. Despite falling short in the grand final, the Storm’s ability to continually unleash previously unheralded rookies and muster back-to-back wins marked a successful season by any measure.
Season 2019 poses a new challenge. Backing up a grand final performance is no easy feat, let alone without the direction and guidance from arguably the game’s best ever fullback, Billy Slater. Although anticipated, his departure has left coach Craig Bellamy with the near-impossible task of filling his rather large boots.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Tom Eisenhuth (Penrith Panthers, 2020), Marion Seve (Brisbane Broncos, 2020), Albert Vete (New Zealand Warriors, 2020).
Louis Geraghty (released), Tim Glasby (Newcastle Knights), Ryan Hoffman (retired), Billy Slater (retired), Ryley Jacks (Gold Coast Titans), Lachlan Timm (St George-Illawarra Dragons), Young Tonumaipea (released).
Brisbane Broncos (Home), Canberra Raiders (Away), Penrith Panthers (Away), Canterbury Bulldogs (Home), North Queensland Cowboys (Away).
WHAT TO EXPECT
The high ‘Melbourne Storm-like’ standards that have been in existence for the last decade: namely, electrifying attacking prowess and relentless defensive pressure. Provided that the Storm commence 2019 with the same vigour and will as previous years, another top four finish is well within their reach.
Although the loss of Slater and Ryan Hoffman has set the level of experience back 644 games, it is expected that the youngsters (who have been biding their time in the lower grades) will slot in seamlessly. Much like Cameron Munster’s terrific transition into first grade in 2016, Craig Bellamy’s rookies have a golden opportunity to embody the Storm’s values and devastate opponents in their wake.
In terms of the Storm’s fortunes in 2019, 24-year-old Munster (five-eighth) holds the key. When considering the relatively unsettled nature of the Storm’s spine, Munster’s leadership and experience is crucial. A dynamic force for the Storm for the best part of three years, his knack of perplexing defensive lines and effectively creating ‘something out of nothing’ must continue into 2019 if the Storm are to be a genuine premiership force. Continuing to lead from the front and taking control in high pressure situations will go a long way to instilling his younger counterparts with the confidence they require to succeed.
Unlike the North Queensland Cowboys, Cronulla Sharks and the Sydney Roosters – who have secured numerous high-profile signings – the Storm have once again neglected to invest in much NRL notoriety. Providing their young prodigies (Jahrome Hughes, Ryan Papenhuyzen and Tino Faasuamaleaui) with the chance to stamp their authority is a reward for their effort and persistence in the lower grades. Only time will tell whether the ploy to maintain a relatively unchanged roster and put faith in youth will succeed.
Over the past couple of years, Bellamy’s men have been blessed with their draw; 2019 is much the same, with only 11 games during the season against top eight teams from 2018. Offsetting this is the requirement to travel to Canberra, Bathurst and Townsville consecutively in the early rounds. Provided that the Storm survive this initial period, their scheduling remains kind and provides a perfect balance of home and away fixtures. You can guarantee that any side led by Bellamy will be well prepared for this hurdle and at peak fitness come round one.
Top Tryscorer – Josh Addo-Carr
Top Pointscorer – Cameron Smith
Club Player of the Year – Joe Stimson
WHERE WILL THE MELBOURNE STORM FINISH?
Despite the departure of two of their favourite sons (Slater and Hoffman), it is likely that the Melbourne Storm will continue their success in 2019. With one of the most agile and dangerous forward packs in the competition, their immensely talented backline will be provided with a great foundation to dominate and take advantage of their opponents’ fatiguing defensive lines. Provided that the injury toll stays at a maintainable level and Bellamy is able to finalise his team as early as possible, the Melbourne Storm will yet again be a force to be reckoned with in 2019.