The Melbourne Storm were a picture of consistency yet again in 2021, but fell just one match short of yet another grand final.
Pre-season predicted finish: 1st
Actual finish: 4th
Record: 21 wins (+499)
2021 Season snapshot
Across 24 games (plus the bye) the Storm were the best team in the competition. At times, they were lengths ahead of the chasing pack.
Every time the Storm lost a star, a new one was born. No Paps, no problem. Nicho Hynes soon became the form player of the comp. No Harry Grant, no worries. Brandon Smith is now an elite level number nine.
Ultimately they fell short of yet another grand final. Their form petered out at the wrong end of the season, which is very un-Storm-like, but it happens.
The last thing the Storm need is more motivation. Next season they'll be looking to right that wrong. Watch out.
Star player: Justin Olam
Yes, he should have passed to the unmarked winger in that first loss to Penrith but apart from that, name one bad game the Papua New Guinean megastar had.
12 tries, 10 try assists, 12 line breaks, 94 tackle breaks and 125 metres run per game. Olam was a weapon all season long and is now arguably the game's best centre.
Breakout star: Nicho Hynes
Nicho Hynes entered 2021 as a more than handy utility. A player capable of slotting in anywhere 1 through 7, or at 9, possible 13, at any time if called upon.
After a regular run of matches in the halves, Hynes became a superstar, the most sought after player on the open market, and I'm convinced at one time was leading the Dally M count.
During a 16 game run, 14 at fullback and two in the halves, Hynes laid on 16 try assists, made 14 linebreaks, broke 52 tackles and scored six tries. He was absolutely magnificent.
Unfortunately his form suffered as he was reduced to a bit part player in the three of the four remaining games, but when called upon he looked the most likely for the Storm.
Rugby League Outlaws present their Season Finale and talk all the big issues
Minor Premiers: I'm on record as stating that the minor premiership needs to mean more. They're largely forgotten despite the fact they are won over 25 rounds.
The Storm were quite convincingly the best side across the 24 regular-season games. They entered the final round needing a win over the Sharks to secure the shield and won convincingly even without a host of stars.
The way they threw aside a red-hot Manly side in Week 2 of the finals series shows how good they truly are. They took Tom Trbojevic out of the game and reduced Manly to spectators.
The Storm only lost four games all season. Two to the eventual premiers Penrith and two to their new bogey side the Eels.
It's worth remembering they finished top after 24 games, even if it will largely be forgotten.
Youngsters and former fringe players do it again: The Storm have become known for turning fringe reserve graders into stars. They've won titles on the back of developing players no one had ever heard of previously.
They did it again in 2021.
When Papenhuyzen went down, the aforementioned Nicho Hynes had the break out of all break out seasons. Harry Grant started the season slowly due to injury, so Brandon Smith become a top five number nine.
Dean Ieremia looks a real find. He continues the tradition of unearthing young wingers who quickly become try scoring freaks.
No one does it quite like the Storm.
The Papenhuyzen and Hynes decision: It started as the most enjoyable of headaches. Sure your superstar number one in Ryan Papenhuyzen suffered a horror concussion at the worst of times but his replacement more than held the ship steady.
By that I mean Nicho Hynes arguably became the form player of the competition filling in at fullback.
Every coach in the game would have been delighted with having to choose between the in-form Hynes or the returning Papenehuyzen.
Unfortunately for the Storm, moving Hynes to the bench dented his form, while Papenhuyzen never re-found that ridiculous form.
I don't think it's unfair to suggest that Papenhuyzen didn't, consistenly, hit the form that was being enjoyed by the man who replaced him either.
For the record I don't think there's a coach in the world who doesn't go back to the original first choice, but it blunted Hynes in a big way.
Waiting... Still waiting: Despite them trailing late in the preliminary final, you just knew Cameron Munster was going to do something freaky. It'll happen. It always happens.
We're still waiting ...
Cam Munster's form trailed off horribly at the wrong end of the season. Look, he was hardly stinking the joint up, but he was not Cam Munster either.
I was so sure the Storm were going to produce something freaky late on and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. I was convinced big game Munster would be the one to deliver said moment.
For possibly the first time in his career, he did not.
Season Grade: A
The difference between Storm fans and the majority of other fans is their reaction to losing a prelim.
Although no one is ever happy to fall a game short of a grand final appearance, Storm fans just expect to go that step further.
In 2018 I was so proud of the fact a rag tag Sharks outfit came within a result of making the decider that the loss hurt less than it should.
Meanwhile the Storm looked as though they'd finished 12th following the narrow loss to the eventual premiers.
They were the best side for 25 weeks. They were just beaten by the better team on the biggest day of their season.
There was nothing from this season that falls under failing. Although if you ask Craig Bellamy and his players, they fell short.
For mine though, it was a brilliant season that should largely be remembered for the many positive results that proceeded the preliminary final.