2017 was as dominant a season as I have ever seen at this level of professional rugby league. The Storm were in a world of their own last year as the 34-6 scoreline on Grand Final day showed.
They topped the competition from start to finish, only losing four games all season. Cooper Cronk was a very deserving Dally M medalist, Cameron Munster became a genuine superstar in his new role in the halves. Billy Slater turned the clock back and was in arguably career best form. Cameron Smith was Cameron Smith.
Jordan McLean and Felise Kaufusi went from handy forwards to international stars in the space of 12 months. Will Chambers emerged arguably the game’s elite centre. Young Curtis Scott is a premiership winner and a genuine New South Wales bolter for 2018 and certainly beyond. Josh Addo Carr is an absolute freak and emerged as something really special in 2017. Vunivalu is one of the top three wingers in the game.
There is very little negative to come out of 2017 for the Storm. 2018 will be a challenge without Cooper Cronk, there is no denying this, but if any side can do it, it’s the Craig Bellamy mentored Melbourne Storm.
Recruitment Grading: C-
On paper the Storm have lost Cooper Cronk, Jordan McLean and Tohu Harris. Three first grade players and three international stars. Coming in are the likes of Kaufusi, Hoffman and Kasiano. Normally I would grade this a D at best but I simply cannot second guess Craig Bellamy. His recruitment has been absolutely incredible over the years and he has earned the benefit of the doubt. Hoffman’s return is a great story as the man once known as the ‘fourth member of the big three’ comes back for his third stint at the club. Kasiano looks a completely different player after an off season in Melbourne and may turn into an absolute weapon. Patrick Kaufusi is a very handy player who, once again, will benefit and improve greatly under Bellamy and co. Replacing Cooper Cronk is nearly impossible.
Star Player: Cameron Smith
This could honestly be a copy and paste from last year, the year before hand, and every year for the past five years. Cameron Smith is the game’s elite number nine, captain and arguably player. I haven’t seen anyone dominate in the way Smith does. It’s not always flashy but it’s always brilliant. I honestly don’t remember the last time Smith had a bad game. I’m sure someone, in the comments below, will prove me wrong, but it has been a fair while. Smith, at 34, is on track to become the first player to ever record 400 NRL games. I don’t see 2018 as the season he starts slowing down either. With a young halfback to mentor Smith is still the game’s most important player, both on and off the field.
Strength: Attacking brilliance
Despite the loss of Cronk, the Storm still possess one of the most potent back lines in the game. Slater, Addo Carr, Vinuvalu, Scott, Chambers, Munster, Croft. That is scary. They will score an absolute mountain of tries and some highlight ones at that. Kaufusi himself is a try-scoring freak, while Smith will send plenty of big men over the stripe also. You really can’t stop the Storm juggernaut, the key will be limiting them. How you even limit a side with the two quickest wingers in the game is way above my pay grade, especially when they are working outside Chambers and Scott. Good luck.
Thoughts on the Storm 2018 season? @zerotackle
— Moylan Mania 🍍 (@suthodan) January 19, 2018
Weakness: Untested halfback
Very few players will start 2018 under as much pressure as young Brodie Croft. The pressure will be there from the trials and it will come as a result of nothing of his making. Following in the footsteps of Cooper Cronk is a daunting proposition but this kid has talent in spades. Four tries in five NRL games, including a hattrick against Newcastle in 2017 shows he knows his way to the line. A three-year deal signed earlier this year also shows Craig Bellamy has incredible belief in the 20 year-old. The fact that the Storm never really chased the likes of Pearce when he was available prove that the Storm believe Croft is their man. My only hope is that people allow him the time he needs to find his feet, adjust and play his own footy, and don’t jump to comparing him to Cronk too early in his career.
I wrote the Storm off a few seasons ago and learned never to do that again. This side has lost superstars in the past only to replace them with equally talented players. That will be incredibly difficult re Cooper Cronk, but I’m not writing them off.
It’s going to be hard to go back-to-back. In the modern era is it almost impossible. The Cowboys and Sharks looked in great shape yet neither could rewrite the history books. The Storm are capable but the loss of Cronk, McLean and Harris does bring them back to the pack just a little bit.
Ultimately they’ll finish top four, fairly comfortable I’d assume, but won’t have the unbeatable aura they carried with them in 2017. I challenge any team to lose three internationals and carry that aura.
There are probably only one or two better sides, on paper, across the competition, hence the third place prediction. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they did finish in the top two yet again.
I can’t see a second straight premiership in 2018, but I certainly can’t see them falling away. 3rd.