Melbourne Storm continued their on-field success in 2018 by making the NRL Grand Final. However they couldn’t end the 25-year drought of clubs looking to win back to back titles.
2018 Club Record
Competition Points: 34 (2nd placed, Grand Finalists)
2018 Player Achievements
After recording only four losses in winning the 2017 crown, defending premiers Melbourne Storm were bought back to the field in 2018. This was highlighted by several results early on in the season where Wests Tigers beat them twice in the first five weeks, and Cronulla got the better of them in round 4. Melbourne’s most convincing win of the first half of the season came on ANZAC Day when they beat New Zealand Warriors 50-10 at AAMI Park. Cameron Smith’s field goal was the difference in round 12 against the wounded Cowboys as Melbourne went into the bye week with seven wins and five losses.
From the Cowboys win, the Storm found consistency on their way to eight straight wins. The win in Adelaide over eventual premiers Sydney Roosters created headlines with Smith and former halfback Cooper Cronk showing a lack of warmth to each other post match. The round 21 loss to the Rabbitohs exposed Melbourne’s vulnerability to keep pace in the second half of matches. Penrith too would take advantage of this in denying the Storm the minor premiership in the final round of the premiership.
Melbourne’s home ground advantage once again paid off in the final series. Cameron Munster’s field goal four minutes from time saw the Storm edge out the Rabbitohs in what was one of the best finals series matches in years. Two weeks later they confirmed their place in the Grand Final after beating a tired Cronulla Sharks, only to be totally outplayed by the Roosters in the decider.
The Storm will be disappointed that they couldn’t go back-to-back and send out fullback Billy Slater a winner. His exoneration by the judiciary in Grand Final week gave the club an unwanted distraction. Discipline would be a common denominator in 2018 with the officials taking a much tougher stance on foul play. Smith became a victim of the referee penalty crackdown during an infamous match at Southern Cross Group Stadium with Matt Cecchin in control. In a bloody altercation in round 11 against Manly, Curtis Scott was dismissed for his involvement in a fight that saw Manly’s Dylan Walker suffering a broken jaw. On Grand Final day Munster was embarrassed in being sent to the sin bin in both halves of the game on a night that he will have nightmares about.
Melbourne struggled at times to find a regular halves pairing as they faced life without Cronk. Brodie Croft looked likely to be the permanent replacement after a stunning performance in the World Club Challenge, but found himself in the Intrust Super Cup with Easts Tigers. By the end of 2018 he would end up in the number seven jumper on Grand Final day. With Ryley Jack’s move to the Gold Coast Titans, Croft may end up feeling more comfortable about his spot in the side. Jahrome Hughes was also trialled in the halves but you would expect he’ll play fullback in place of the retiring Slater.
Slater’s career with Melbourne ended on 319 matches and 190 tries, a phenomenal record which will take some beating. He fell twenty-two tries short of the all-time record holder in Ken Irvine. In his final Origin series, he won the Player of the Series controversially ahead of Valentine Holmes and James Tedesco.
It was also the end of the road for Ryan Hoffman after 325 career games at Melbourne and the New Zealand Warriors, 6 Kangaroo caps and 14 appearances for New South Wales.
Melbourne have been relatively inactive on the signing front with Marion Seve and Albert Vete low-key signings. Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Jahrome Hughes, Felise Kaufusi and Curtis Scott all re-signed long-term. They have also put faith in Scott Drinkwater after making an appearance at fullback towards the end of the season.
NothingButLeague Player of the Season
It was a season where Cameron Munster had to step up and take a more senior role in the Storm’s attack following the off-season departure of Cooper Cronk. One game that stands out was against the Gold Coast Titans at the back-end of the season. Munster was by far Melbourne’s best player on the night as they scraped home 10-8. Statistically, Munster was involved in 18 try assists, made 66 tackle breaks and for a five-eighth offloaded twenty-one times. He was rewarded with Kangaroos selection but ended up withdrawing from the side shortly after.