If you were left scratching your head earlier this year when reports suggested the Melbourne Storm were trying to lock up Tino Fa'asuamaleaui on a life-time deal, the reasons why have been laid bare during the finals series.

Fa'asuamaleaui isn't the only forward Melbourne have chased in the last 12 months, and while they landed the signatures of Tariq Sims and Eliesa Katoa, the duo haven't replaced the enormous amount of experience that headed out the door at the end of the 2022 season.

That, of course, saw Kenneath Bromwich, Jesse Bromwich and Felise Kaufusi head north to join the Dolphins, while Brandon Smith made his move to the Sydney Roosters.

The quartet have all had varying levels of success this year, and while salary cap was a part of the reason Melbourne lost the four players, if they had of foreseen the enormous toll it would have on their remaining forwards, they may have fought harder to retain at least half of the departures.

While a preliminary final appearance is nothing to be sneezed at, the Melbourne Storm are a club who demand nothing but success.

Being eliminated in the finals series is one thing, but being eliminated in the way the Storm have is another.

They meekly surrendered in their qualifying final against the Brisbane Broncos, falling 26-0. While they were able to hit back against the Sydney Roosters, even that took a last minute try, and their final performance of the season saw them blown off the park by the Penrith Panthers.

The common trend in those two losses?

Their forwards were never in the game.

And you could tell from the outset that there were concerns. Melbourne have never looked so off their game as they have during this year's finals series.

A lot of that was down to the mental side of things, and knowing they would need to upset the rhythm of the now grand finalists forward packs.

In the first set of the finals series, Harry Grant, who is usually one of the cooler customers in the game under the pump, sparked a push and shove between his own side and the Broncos.

That would be the first of many in the 26-0 game, but it didn't change the course of the action.

In fact, in that loss to Brisbane, the only Melbourne forward to crack 100 metres was Nelson Asofa-Solomona, who wound up with 104. He was the only one who looked like making a difference on the game for the most part too, although Fijian representative Tui Kamikamica had some nice moments as well in his 98 metres from 8 runs.

Outside of that, no one was able to muster anything. Christian Welch had 67 metres, Trent Loiero 54, Eliesa Katoa 77, Josh King 95, Tom Eisenhuth 47 and Tariq Sims 78.

Nice moments or not, they didn't compare to the Broncos.

Thomas Flegler was the "worst" of the middle forwards who had big minutes and out ran all of Melbourne's forwards bar Asofa-Solomona, winding up with 102 metres. Payne Haas found 180, Patrick Carrigan, who has gone to another level in the finals, finished with 193, and bench duo Kobe Hetherington and Keenan Palasia fought their way to 140 and 153 respectively.

Kurt Capewell and Jordan Riki had less, but playing on the edges, they have a need to do nearly as much work and instead focused on breaking tackles and being involved where it was needed as Brisbane trounced the Storm.

Post-game, Craig Bellamy mentioned his team looked like they had never met each other in attack, and that was true. Cameron Munster, Jahrome Hughes, Nick Meaney, Ryan Papenhuyzen, Harry Grant and Bronson Garlick look completely and uttlery lost in attack.

But there is only so much a spine can do when their forward pack is being rolled.

The game against Penrith on Friday which saw Melbourne fall 38 points to 4 as their season came to an end was even worse.

Defensively, they were putrid, but their influence in attack was a horror show. Even Asofa-Solomona couldn't find an impact, making just 40 metres from 6 runs.

Josh King, who made a number of errors, was their most impactful forward with 91 metres, followed up by second-rower Eliesa Katoa with 80. In the middle, it was a bloodbath, with Tui Kamikamica and Christian Welch managing just 66 and 65 metres respectively.

There is no doubt that Kamikamica, Welch and Asofa-Solomona should bring enough for the bones of a strong middle third rotation, but the Storm simply need more X-Factor, more punch and more influence in the middle if they are going to be a side who contend for a premiership in 2024.

That said, it's obvious why they reportedly attempted to lock up former player Tino Fa'asuamaleaui on a lifetime deal earlier this year before he signed his rights for the next decade away to the Gold Coast Titans.

There were also reports late last year that Patrick Carrigan was a target for the Melbourne Storm before he ultimately elected to re-sign with the Broncos.

The exact same story played out with Payne Haas, who recently re-signed with the Broncos. The Storm were prepared to crack the million dollar mark to bring him to Victoria as well.

Others have been targetted by Bellamy and his recruitment staff in the Victorian capital too, but the aura of working under Bellamy, which for years attracted players who would then only improve in Melbourne is now a risk given the super coach could hang up he clipboard at any time on his year-to-year deal with the club.

It means the Storm could have trouble recruiting, as they appear to have done for next year. While Asofa-Solomona, Kamikamica and King have all re-signed in the middle, and Eliesa Katoa has locked up future until the end of 2027, the club have made a grand total of zero new signings.

Salary cap has often been an issue in the Victorian capital, but their pursuit of Fa'asuamaleaui, where they would have broken the million dollars per season barrier, shows they have wiggle room available.

It also shows the desperation of Melbourne's recruitment staff. This is a club who have never before marched down the path of paying that much for a forward. In fact, the common belief was that the Bromwich brothers, Smith and Kaufusi all left the club because the Storm refused to break the bank for a forward.

And why would they? Bellamy has worked magic time and time again to turn bargain buys into strong first-grade footballers. Think the likes of Dale Finucane previously, and now Josh King in the current iteration.

But desperate times call for desperate measures.

The issue is that of the players off-contract at the end of 2023, none in the middle are going to be a major benefit in turning things around for the Storm. Bellamy could probably get a lot out of the likes of Matthew Lodge, Jordan McLean or Luke Thompson, but are they the type of players to add to what the club already have?

It's doubtful at best.

The end of 2024 could again be considered a pretty poor reading in the middle third. Moeaki Fotuaika is one the Storm will likely chase, while Jacob Saifiti, Toby Rudolf, Terrell May, Francis Molo, Michael Molo and the likes of Jesse Colquhoun and Braden Hamlin-Uele could well be on the radar, while Nat Butcher, Jai Arrow, Jack de Belin and Jazz Tevaga are all off-contract.

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But that's another season away, and right now, 2024 is shaping up as one where the Storm will again compete - any team with Hughes, Grant, Munster and a (hopefully fit) Papenhuyzen will be strong.

Forwards are the key though. Without them, you can't win a premiership.

If you needed further proof, just look at Brisbane and the Panthers. The two best forward packs in the game to compete for the Provan-Summons Trophy.

If one thing is for certain, the Storm have plenty of soul-searching to do.


  1. Change “Melbourne” to “Cronulla”, and this article would be equally applicable to the Sharks.

    Hynes, Trindall and Kennedy give them the nucleus of the first class spine, but their forwards are mostly 7/10 guys.

    No 10/10s, no 9/10s, maybe an 8/10 on the day for a couple of them. They have a lot of money tied up in “bench-rotation class” players, and that is why they have no money to even think about someone like Tino or Mo or Payne.

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