The Melbourne Storm are redesigning their approach to junior football in the hopes of addressing the exodus of local talent being lured to the northern states.
NewsCorp reports that a number of highly-rated Victorian youngsters have recently been recruited away from the southern state by high schools, forcing the club to strengthen their pathways for local players – starting with a branding overhaul.
At the SG Ball and Jersey Flegg levels, the Storm's teams have been known as the Victoria Thunderbolts since 2019. This title will be replaced by the Melbourne Storm title next season, with the hope of strengthening the brand and identifying it as a clear path through the Storm ranks.
The Storm have been in the competition for over two decades but we've seen a relatively small number of Victorian-based players make it to the NRL ranks, with Mahe Fonua, Young Tonumaipea, Richie Kennar and Dean Ieremia the only local junior products who have played for the team.
“In 25 years we've only had four players that have come from the Victorian system to play for the Storm,” general manager of football Frank Ponissi told NewsCorp.
“We don't think that's good enough. We need to give young blokes an opportunity to play in a Melbourne Storm jersey and under that name from a younger age than we've been doing.
The strategic change already has the support of northern administrators.
“We had a meeting with the NSWRL and they were supportive that our teams out of Victoria will now be known as the Melbourne Storm Jersey Flegg and SG Ball teams.
“There's also a big one that we're really committed to – having a Melbourne Storm Harold Matthews team for the under-17s in the next 12 months.
“Hopefully in a couple of years, four becomes eight and eight becomes 16.
“The talent is there. We just have to nurture it.”