Coming into the 2014 season, there is a sense this golden era of Melbourne Storm is coming to an end. And with speculation Cameron Smith, who’s the heart and soul of this club, could leave in 2015 to finish his career at the Broncos, this could be the last year in a generation where Melbourne is a serious contender to win the Premiership. Coach Craig Bellamy encouraged Smith to make a decision on his future before the season starts to avoid distractions but it doesn’t look like that will be the case.
The departure of five-eighth Gareth Widdop to the Dragons and Brett Finch’s retirement has left a vacancy in Melbourne’s spine. Fear not, because there is a ready-made replacement. 22-year-old Queenslander Ben Hampton has only played two first-grade games so far but managed to score two tries on debut. Over the preseason, he would have learnt a lot from his halves partner Cooper Cronk and it will be interesting to see how they combine in the early part of the season.
Matt Duffie must have crossed paths with a black cat while walking under a ladder, such is his bad luck with injuries. Last year he required shoulder and knee reconstructions and will need another knee reconstruction after rupturing his ACL at training. He will miss a large chunk, if not all of the 2014 season. The tall utility-back, who has one of the best vertical leaps in the completion, will surely be missed.
Another factor will be how the veterans, in particular their State of Origin representatives, will last the season especially after backing up from a World Cup last November. The sheer volume of matches they have played season in-season out surely has to catch up to them eventually. At least they were rested for the Auckland Nines but it will still be crucial to manage their workload so they won’t be exhausted by September.
Additions to the team include Joel Romelo, Ben Roberts and the cult figure of George Rose, known for being one of the heaviest players in the league. He may have gotten away with a sloppy diet at Manly but under Bellamy’s strict training regime, he has thinned down and already dropped 8kg according to some reports.
The Storm finished 3rd on the ladder last season with a 16-7 record but were caught off guard in the finals after they were eliminated in ‘straight sets’.
Melbourne should use Manly as a benchmark and try to match their position on the ladder as the season rolls on and funnily enough, their season opener is against their fierce rivals.
The Storm will make the finals but the question is where exactly in the top 8 will they finish?
Ladder prediction: 5th