Premiership Odds: (via betting.club): $15.00
Big Outs: Ryan Hinchcliffe, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, Mahe Fonua
Big Ins: Cheyse Blair, Curtis Scott
After losing the likes of Ryan Hoffman, it was hard seeing the Storm making the Top 8, let alone the Top 4, but Storm fans knew better.
I’d argue that the Storm are stronger heading into 2016 than they were last season after the emergence of Cameron Munster and the brilliant season enjoyed by Blake Green.
Jesse Bromwich established himself as one of the premier front rowers in the competition, while Kevin Proctor and Tohu Harris enhanced their already fearsome reputations after brilliant seasons.
They did struggle slightly filling a troublesome wing position but Cheyse Blair’s signing should ensure that is no longer the case.
Key Player: Cooper Cronk
You could choose any of the three world class superstars on the Storm’s books but it is Cronk who is the main playmaker in the Victorian capital.
He is the all-round playmaker and can literally do it all. If anything he had a below par 2015, based on his own loft standards, yet still guided the Storm to within a win of the Grand Final.
Cronk has the ability to make players around him better and has formed an incredible halves partnership with Blake Green.
There’s little I can say about Cronk that hasn’t already been said. This is a guy who has literally done it all.
Young Gun: Cameron Munster
21 year-old Cameron Munster burst onto the scene in a huge way in 2015 filling in for the injured Billy Slater at fullback.
He will likely make a switch into the centres, which if anything makes the Storm even more dangerous in attack given Slater will slot back into the fullback spot.
He scored seven tries last season as well as recording 10 line breaks and three try assists, not bad for a second year fullback.
It may take some time to adjust to his new role, however he has a brilliant mentor at the helm and a rep centre partner to learn from.
Best Signing: Cheyse Blair
Blair is the only signing made by the Storm that will impact the makeup of their first 17, as he will more than likely find a place on the wing.
The former Sea Eagle has had a tough run with injuries during his career but is the kind of solid player than Craig Bellamy has made a career out of turning into a star.
He will likely play outside young superstar Cameron Munster which will create an exciting wing/centre combination to say the least.
Blair has so much promise and I really hope his injury problems are behind him. He certainly has a brilliant opportunity to finally live up to his potential, while presenting the Storm with a low risk, high reward situation.
Strength: Superstars in key positions
Melbourne Storm’s superstars go well beyond the famed “big three”. Will Chambers and Jesse Bromwich are genuine stars while their back row is brilliant.
Billy Slater has had an extended break and is so keen to return to footy that he has mentioned playing in the nines tournament.
Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk show no signs of slowing down despite playing at the highest level for many years.
Proctor, Finucane and Tohu Harris have combined to form a fearsome back row which has added a new route of attack, taking the pressure off Slater, Cronk and Smith.
Weakness: Lack of depth in key positions
The only problem with having three multi-million dollar superstars in three key positions is that the salary cap doesn’t allow big money replacements.
As talented as young Ben Hampton is, he is a huge drop in quality from Cooper Cronk. Munster will shift to fullback should Slater get injured, leaving them weak at centre.
As for Cam Smith, he is unreplaceable.
The Storm have a supremely talented first 17, and plenty of young talent such as Curtis Scott, but outside of Matt White, there isn’t a lot of NRL experience in the reserves.
1. Billy Slater
2. Marika Koroibete
3. Will Chambers
4. Cameron Munster
5. Cheyse Blair
6. Blake Green
7. Cooper Cronk
8. Jesse Bromwich
9. Cameron Smith
10. Jordan McLean
11. Kevin Proctor
12. Tohu Harris
13. Dale Finucane
14. Kenny Bromwich
15. Tim Glasby
16. Felise Kaufusi
17. Nelson Asofa-Solomona
To be honest I’m not sure how I ever tipped them to miss the eight last season.
If this were judged PURELY on the top 17, there aren’t many sides that can beat this Storm outfit, but you do feel like they are only two injuries away from being brought back to the field.
I hate to allow possible injuries to influence a prediction but injuries are inevitable and I don’t see the depth in this side to repeat their top four efforts of last year, especially given the strain on the squad during the representative period.
This is a brilliant side with a legendary coach. I may eat these words but Blake Green played well above himself last season, and Munster will take time to adapt to an NRL level centre position, plus the squad will suffer during Origin.
All of those factors taken into account, they’ll make the eight, but miss out on the top four.