MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 16: (L-R) Tom Eisenhuth of the Storm, Nelson Asofa-Solomona of the Storm and Harry Grant of the Storm celebrate after winning the round six NRL match between the Melbourne Storm and the Sydney Roosters at AAMI Park on April 16, 2021, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

The Melbourne Storm are the NRL's most consistent team. Craig Bellamy has created a juggernaut in the Victorian capital where success is the expectation rather than the hope.

They missed the finals in 2010 due to a salary cap break, but the last time they missed the finals for on-field related reasons was way back in 2002.

Bellamy's first season in charge was, you guessed it, 2003.

This is a club who have won four of the last six minor premierships and played in as many grand finals during that period with two premierships to boot.

In fact, they have only missed the top four one outside of 2010 since 2005.

You could go on and write a book about just how good this club is, but that isn't why we are here.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 17: Coach Craig Bellamy looks on during a Melbourne Storm NRL training session at Gosch's Paddock on September 17, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

We are here to determine where the Storm's potential weakness is and where they could upgrade if all contracts and salary cap ramifications were removed from the competition.

With such a strong team across the park, there are few genuine problem areas for the Storm, as you might expect for a system which refuses to take anything other than the best.

Who would your club steal?
» Brisbane Broncos
» Canberra Raiders
» Canterbury Bulldogs
» Cronulla Sharks
» Gold Coast Titans
» Manly Sea Eagles
» Newcastle Knights
» New Zealand Warriors
» North Queensland Cowboys
» Parramatta Eels
» Penrith Panthers
» South Sydney Rabbitohs
» St George Illawarra Dragons
» Sydney Roosters
» Wests Tigers

Current squad for 2022

Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Jesse Bromwich, Kenneath Bromwich, Xavier Coates, Tom Eisenhuth, Harry Grant, Jordan Grant, Jack Howarth, Jahrome Hughes, Dean Ieremia, George Jennings, Cooper Johns, Tui Kamikamica, Felise Kaufusi, Josh King, Chris Lewis, Trent Loiero, Isaac Lumelume, Nick Meaney, Tepai Moeroa, Cameron Munster, Jayden Nikorima, Justin Olam, Ryan Papenhuyzen, Brandon Smith, Reimis Smith, William Warbrick, Christian Welch, Tyran Wishart.

The gaps in the Storm's best 17

It is extremely difficult to pick up the gaps in the Storm's squad. This is a well-built team who, under the excellent coaching of Bellamy, will be undoubtedly once again in the picture come September and potentially that first Sunday in October as the grand final returns to Sydney.

But, every team can improve just a little bit. Their spine is rock-solid, with Ryan Papenhuyzen, Jahrome Hughes, Cameron Munster, Harry Grant and Brandon Smith all in line for positions, with Smith likely forced out to lock where he will replace Dale Finucane.

Jesse Bromwich and Christian Welch are both representative calibre players upfront, with Felise Kaufusi and Kenneath Bromwich holding the same standing in the second-row.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 27: Christian Welch of the Storm warms up during the round 19 NRL match between the Melbourne Storm and the Manly Sea Eagles at AAMI Park on July 27, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

Tui Kamikamica and Nelson Asofa-Solomona are wrecking-ball options off the bench as well, although Asofa-Solomona's future is up in the air thanks to his vaccination stance against the coronavirus pandemic.

Justin Olam had a breakout year to be named centre of the year in the Dally M team of the year, while Reimis Smith also had a wonderful season after switching from the Canterbury Bulldogs, taking his game from strength to strength under Bellamy in Victoria.

The two areas the Storm could earmark for potential improvement are on the wing, and potentially with their remaining spots on the bench.

Xavier Coates deserves a run under Bellamy to see what he can bring to the side, however, none of Isaac Lumelume, Dean Ieremia, George Jennings or Nick Meaney - who will seemingly fight for the other wing spot - will fill Melbourne fans with great levels of confidence.

That said, they need a replacement for Addo-Carr. A player who will make plenty of metres and knows how to finish out wide, but also a player who has become defensively excellent.

Addo-Carr might have struggled with that early in his career, but he has improved out of sight over the years, to the point he is now one of the best defensive wingers in the competition and a walk-up start to the New South Wales State of Origin team.

Melbourne Storm Training Session
SUNSHINE COAST, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 29: Josh Addo-Carr looks to pass during a Melbourne Storm NRL training session at Sunshine Coast Stadium on September 29, 2020 in Sunshine Coast, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

As for their bench, they pack a punch with a couple of wrecking balls, but Chris Lewis and Tepai Moeroa are quite similar players.

What will concern the Storm is the lack of a third excellent second-rower to back-up Kaufusi and Bromwich, who are both getting on in age.

Depth for injury is a requirement rather than a want for a team gunning for a premiership, and at the present time it appears to be Melbourne's only other gap to fill.

This could all change if Asofa-Solomona can't play, but for now, let's assume that he will be able to.

The candidates to steal

Option 1: Brian To'o (Penrith Panthers)
If you're looking for a winger to replace every aspect of what Addo-Carr brought to the Storm, then there will be no one ahead of his State of Origin teammate in the mix.

To'o has become the best winger in the game. He records more metres, more post-contact metres, and more tackle breaks and line breaks than any other.

His ability to get a set off to a flying start is unmatched, and every top team in the competition have that ability.

It's hard to argue a winger is a team's most important player, especially when that team wins the premiership, but in some ways, it's hard to argue against in the rather specific case of To'o.

His ability defensively is also up to scratch and would be the perfect replacement for Addo-Carr, who had become elite in that department.

BRIAN TO'O
Wing
Panthers
2021 SEASON AVG
0.7
Tries
242
All Run Metres
3.6
Tackles Made

Option 2: Angus Crichton (Sydney Roosters)
There are few second-rowers in the game who are better than Angus Crichton.

The Sydney Roosters' freak, who has been linked with a move away from the club in recent times, has an incredible knack of finding the tryline and running the right lines, but he brings so much more to a team than that.

He would never sign as a backup option, but he simply wouldn't need too - because he would start ahead of either Bromwich or Kaufusi at the Storm.

His combination with Mitchell Pearce at club level for many years was a thing of beauty, and that has just carried over now to playing alongside the likes of Drew Hutchison, Sam Walker and Luke Keary.

He is a damaging left-edge attacker, but also understands and reads the game perfectly when it comes to defence.

Crichton is one of those players who will never let anyone down, and would be the perfect addition in the Victorian capital.

ANGUS CRICHTON
Second-row
Roosters
2021 SEASON AVG
31.6
Tackles Made
0.4
Tries
3.1
Tackle Breaks

Option 3: Alex Johnston (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Some will point at the players in the same team as Johnston as the reason he led the way for tries in 2021.

Damien Cook, Cameron Murray, Dane Gagai and more importantly Cody Walker all had a hand in his ridiculous try tally, which at one point saw him cross 15 times in six weeks.

But it's not all those players.

Johnston has a phenomenal record in the NRL when it comes to scoring tries, no matter who he has playing centre, half, hooker and lock in the middle of the park.

Addo-Carr had a freakish knack of finding the tryline, but Johnston takes that to the next level. It's incredible to think he was virtually an outcast at the Rabbitohs before he signed his current contract.

He is also defensively excellent.

ALEX JOHNSTON
Wing
Rabbitohs
2021 SEASON AVG
1.4
Tries
121
All Run Metres
2.8
Tackles Made

Option 4: David Fifita (Gold Coast Titans)
When you think at players who can make an impact on a game in a matter of minutes, you need to look no further than Gold Coast Titans' wrecking-ball David Fifita.

The most pleasing thing about Fifita is that he seemingly has no problem coming from the bench - a bench which if he moved to Melbourne could also feature Asofa-Solomona and Kamikamica.

Now, he has some inconsistencies in his game - let's not hide that fact.

But if there is a coach who could get him playing consistently and not drifting in and out of games, it's Bellamy.

Not only that, but Fifita coming onto the park on the back of a platform built by Welch, Jesse Bromwich and either Kenny Bromwich or Kaufusi is a scary proposition.

He wouldn't need to play big minutes, but would improve the bench ten-fold in Melbourne if they were to go down that path.

DAVID FIFITA
Second-row
Titans
2021 SEASON AVG
20.6
Tackles Made
0.7
Tries
6.6
Tackle Breaks

The verdict

Given they do have some back up in the second-row (Lewis can play there, and Trent Loiero is also in the squad), that doesn't appear to be the most pressing issue, although it's tempting to imagine the Fifita playing at his full potential under Bellamy.

Rather, finding a wing partner for Coates, and a suitable replacement for Addo-Carr would be the way to go if the shackles of the salary cap were thrown into the garbage.

In terms of being able to finish and score points, there is none better than Johnston and it's tempting to imagine how many tries he'd score on the outside of Harry Grant and Ryan Papenhuyzen.

But To'o replaces the metres lost by Addo-Carr so effectively, and the ability to start sets on the fly.

You could argue he would be an upgrade from Addo-Carr, but that's another debate for another day. He is, however, the undoubted best option for Melbourne in this context.

Brian To'o (Penrith Panthers)

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 22: Brian To'o of the Panthers is tackled during the round seven NRL match between the Penrith Panthers and the Newcastle Knights at BlueBet Stadium, on April 22, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

The Newcastle Knights are next in this series.