It was all change for the Melbourne Storm at the end of 2017. After winning the regular season crown, most expected the Storm to claim Grand Final glory – and they were spot on. Melbourne was dominant from start to finish against the North Queensland Cowboys, running out 34-6 winners at ANZ Stadium. It was the ideal way for Cooper Cronk to bow out after 13 incredible years with the Storm.
Questions remained over Billy Slater’s future in the game but after arguably a career-best year in 2017, the star fullback signed on. After falling short in the 2016 Grand Final, it was great to see two legends of the game win the Premiership title for the second time. Melbourne fans will recall their triumph over the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in 2012 but last year’s win trumped that particular success.
Cronk will now ply his trade for the Sydney Roosters, one of the chief contenders for NRL glory this year. It will be hard for Storm fans to see Smith and Slater going up against a fellow Melbourne legend but that is how the sport is. Niceties will be exchanged before the game but, as soon as that whistle goes, Cronk is the enemy. Backing a winner is tough – it could go right down to the wire this year if both teams fulfil their potential.
The key for Melbourne could be Brodie Croft’s form this year. Widely touted as the Storm’s next number seven, Croft will be expected to step up and prove his worth immediately after a season on the outskirts of the first team. The 20-year-old has shown glimpses of quality in his brief tenure on the big stage but he has so much more to give. Melbourne fans are very excited to see him in action on a regular basis this campaign.
Just look at the 2017 NRL ladder. Melbourne, six points clear of Sydney at the top, were by far and away the strongest team in the competition. The Storm boasted the best offensive record with 633 points scored and the best defensive record with just 336 allowed. On that form, Melbourne deserves to head into the new season as favourites and punters will be taking the 6/1 available in bet365’s Rugby League betting odds.
Craig Bellamy will have every faith in Melbourne’s ability, despite losing Cronk to a rival club. Look at the squad and you see talent in key areas; Josh Addo-Carr and Suliasu Vunivalu finished atop the NRL’s top try scorer standings last year with 23 scores each, whilst Smith finished as the joint-top goal kicker (92) and came second (192) only to Penrith Panthers star Nathan Cleary (228) in terms of total points accumulated.
At this moment in time, Melbourne and Sydney are once again clear of their NRL rivals and it could be another two-horse race for the title. On paper, it is difficult to split the two clubs but the Smith-Slater combination could give Melbourne the edge, especially if Croft settles quickly at the start of the campaign.
It might just be another BIG year for the Melbourne Storm if everything goes to plan.