Could this be the year?
It seems like every pre-season in the past four or five seasons that fans, such as myself, jump to the conclusion that THIS is the year where the Melbourne Storm come back to the pack.
No, we’re not expecting the Storm to run last, or even come close to missing the eight, but surely 2019 is the year that the mighty Melbourne Storm are no longer top four certainties?
Ok so last season I predicted that the Storm would come second. Not exactly a fall, but the season prior (the season they literally won the premiership) I think I had them sneaking into the eight.
To predict where they could finish this season, be sure to check out bet calculator to determine where Melbourne could finish and the winnings associated.
The season prior (Grand final loss to the Sharks) I had them finishing ninth. I was not the only one.
The Storm managed to overcome the loss of one of the top two halfbacks of this generation to make a Grand Final. It’s no coincidence that Cooper Cronk (that very halfback) was the man who lead his new side, the Roosters, to victory over the Storm.
This is a side who is able to find stars out of nowhere. No side in recent NRL has been able to replace departing stars with such talent quite like the Melbourne Storm.
That said, there have been three constants in Melbourne in recent memory.
Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater.
2019 is the first season, in many many years, the purple of the Storm will run out sans two of their biggest stars.
Billy Slater was absolutely magnificent in 2018 despite it being his last season.
He’s going to be near impossible to replace.
The Storm did pretty well in 2018 after seeing their superstar halfback in Cooper Cronk move on however they’re still searching for their number seven.
Brodie Croft wore the number seven in the Grand Final and had an above average season but he spent the season swapping the seven jersey with Ryley Jacks.
With Jacks having moved onto the Titans, Croft is now the only real ready-made option at seven.
In terms of replacing the retired Billy Slater, the Storm have two main options. The first being Jahrome Hughes, who has a handful of NRL games to his name already and probably leads the charge.
The other main option is youngster Scott Drinkwater. The QLD residents fullback has all the talent in the world and could be a genuine bolter for round one.
There’s always a chance that Cameron Munster shifts back to the one given he has very publicly stated his desire to reclaim the fullback role.
Any potential shift to fullback for Munster would really lessen the hurt felt by Slaters retirement but would leave the Storm with two young halves.
Then there’s the criminally understated situation where Cameron Smith is yet to re-sign for 2019 and beyond yet.
Although it’s considered a foregone conclusion that he will play on, the fact that we’re entering a new year without a signed contract must have a few Storm fans worried.
Smith had, half jokingly, floated the idea of possible retirement at the end of 2018. Although it seemed very tongue in cheek, this is also the player who decided to hang up the boots for Queensland on minimal notice.
No one really saw that coming so perhaps it wouldn’t be the craziest event, certainly not in this off-season.
So the Storm will certainly enter 2019 sans two of the three players who combined to make them the best team of the modern generation. Cam Smith’s future isn’t yet decided, and the Storm will line up in round one with a rookie fullback or half.
That said, given the ability of Craig Bellamy, Hughes and Drinkwater will likely be full time rep footballers by mid-season.
The betting agencies have the Storm finishing top four. The Roosters and Bunnies are the clear favourites however the Storm still top the likes of the Broncos, Panthers and Sharks in terms of most likely to challenge the two Sydney powerhouses.
Although predicting the 2019 table in 2018 is akin to blinding throwing a dart, many seem to have the Storm dropping from the top four, some even the eight.
I’m certainly not willing to go that far just yet but surely the Storm can’t keep their amazing run after losing the best fullback of the modern generation?
They’ve only added three reserve graders to their squad while they’ve lost Slater, Glasby, Hoffman and Jacks.
I should know better than to bet against the Storm but the Roosters have gotten stronger, the Bunnies now have a multiple time Premiership winning coach, the Panthers have consistency off-season, the Sharks have signed Shaun Johnson.
The Storm have, on paper, fallen away quite severely.
They’ll still make the eight but the almost guaranteed run to the Grand Final may be a little bit more difficult than in the past three seasons.