Position: 6th (knocked out week 1 NRL finals)
Record (W-L-D): 14 wins – 10 losses – 0 draws.
Top Pointscorer: Cameron Smith; 202 (2 tries, 68 goals, 1 field goal)
Top Tryscorer: Sisa Waqa (17 tries)
By their own admission, Melbourne Storm would label their 2014 season one of missed opportunity. Far from the dominant force the Victorian based franchise has been over the past decade, Melbourne have been notorious for starting the season off well winning most of their games up to the first State of Origin fixture.
However, 2014 was far from the case. After 6 rounds, the Storm were 3 wins and 3 losses and were sitting on the cusp of the 8 rather than being an outright leader. It was foreign territory for Coach Craig Bellamy and his players who seemed to be struggling with the new interpretations of the ruck. Known for their ruthlessness in defence, the Storm were ranked 15th out of 16 teams at one stage, struggling to not only put away sides, but contain opposition’s attack.
Many were starting to question the Storm’s potency, believing they were no longer the threat they once were, citing an aging ‘the big three’ as the main factor as to why their form had been patchy before the representative season hit which almost saw Smith, Slater and Cronk discover the fountain of youth, bring their subliminal form back to the Storm to finish the season off in traditional Melbourne fashion. Whilst a little lower down on the premiership table compared to previous years, the Storm managed to qualify for their 14th finals campaign in 17 years of existence, a mighty fine effort despite their self-admitted season of inconsistency.
Many of the game’s commentators and pundits are once again saying that the Storm’s ‘big 3’ are not the same players they once were, citing age, their workload and the game as a whole catching up with the enigmatic trio. But is this really the case? One tends to think otherwise. After having a limited pre-season and in some respect, not having a pre-season at all thanks to a combination of the Rugby League World Cup and surgery, Smith, Slater and Cronk started the year slower than usual. However, come Origin time, the three amigos were back to their brilliant best, especially Cronk.
After breaking his arm in the 8th minute of Origin I, Cronk defied the odds to play in the final Origin Game 6 weeks after the initial fracture and virtually won the Queensland Maroons the game with his organisation and astute kicking game. He carried that sublime form back to club land and put the Storm back on the radar for a strong finish and threatening finals campaign. The Melbourne magician was dominant and went close to being the Storm’s best for the club’s last 8 games, bringing much need guidance and direction.
The emergence and coming of age of prop Jesse Bromwich. The big NZ Kiwi international asserted himself as the leader of the Storm’s forward pack having a stellar season for Melbourne and will surely go close to claiming the Storm’s player of the year award in October. In the absence of Smith, Slater, Cronk, Chambers and Hoffman during the chaotic Origin period, Bromwich
Inconsistency. Whilst Coach Craig Bellamy, Captain Cameron Smith and the team’s attacking maestro in Cooper Cronk have all stated and cited the severe lack of consistency as the primary reason and factor the Storm, instead of progressing into the second week of the finals, now find themselves looking towards 2015.
Inconsistency in their defensive aptitude. Inconsistency in their execution. Inconsistency in their completion rate. Inconsistency in not competing for the entire 80 minutes. Facets that the Storm has been renowned for; being the benchmark in all these areas. Like all professional sporting teams, a post-season review will take place trying to uncover what went so horribly wrong; identifying what worked and what did not; areas that need attention and ultimately identifying areas of improvement to ensure that a repeat of the failures are not retold in 12 months’ time.
Storm captain Cameron Smith implored his playing group that the only way to rectify the side’s disappointing failures is to change the mindset and attitude; stating that he would no longer accept second-rate efforts once preseason resumed with the aim of ending the inconsistent play that has troubled the side in the past two seasons. “It’s our consistency, without a doubt. It’s been an issue here for a couple of years now,” Smith said. “It was probably the thing we were best in the competition at in the past 10 years minus the past two seasons. “That’s something we need to address and it starts at training, that’s where it starts.”
The Future: 2015
Smith along with Bellamy loathes nothing more than not achieving their own high standards and expectations. Hence why the Melbourne Storm culture is one of the best not only in Rugby League, but in world sport. Can they turn it around and become the consistent force and side they intend on once again becoming? If any team is to do it, it is the Storm. Bellamy’s authoritarian approach; a noted stickler for perfection will be issuing the challenge to his playing group. It will once again be up to the senior leaders to lead the way and implore the younger members of the squad to work harder and buy into what Melbourne have built, established and are about as a club.
The likes of Tohu Harris, Mahe Fonua, Young Tonumaipea, Kenny Bromwich, Ben Hampton Jordan McLean will be better from the experience that the rigors of NRL First Grade provided them in 2014. The Storm will be expecting them to step up another level in 2015. Melbourne has invested heavily in its young crop of talented juniors instead of heading out into the market place in the past few seasons. The brains trust of the Storm football department have put their faith in these capable individuals. It’s time they repaid that faith with consistency in their football, working harder in the off season to strengthen areas of improvement and fine tune their respective traits which assisted Melbourne to make the finals.
The loss of Ryan Hoffman will undoubtedly leave a void. However the emergence, growth and maturity of Jesse Bromwich has shown that the Storm are not short of leaders. The smart recruitment of utility Blake Green from Wigan, half Shaun Nona from the Northern Pride in the Intrust Super Cup in the QLD State competition will assist with depth come Origin time. Former NSW and Australian Test prop in Tom Leroyd-Lahrs from Canberra Raiders will also add even more size to the forward pack, giving Coach Craig Bellamy the option to have genuine four prop rotation at his disposal with Norrie, Bromwich and McLean, with size on the edges in Proctor and Harris.
And whilst the evergreen trinity of Smith, Slater and Cronk are fit, the Melbourne Storm will always have the other 15 competitors looking over their shoulders, knowing that the men in purple will continue to be a premiership threat; even more so if they rediscover that consistency they will be looking to revive in the off-season in their preparation to atone in Season 2015. So write the Storm off at your own peril. There is still a lot of life left in this dynasty. The doubters are only fuelling the fire which will motivate the purple machine to respond the only way they know how, with consistency. Bellamy will make sure of it.