The Melbourne Storm team of 2006 and 2007 has naturally received plenty of accolades for their table topping NRL form and a brand of Rugby League that has been unmatched by opponents in the past 2 years.
What I believe makes this Storm outfit even more impressive, is the fact that their current reign as NRL minor premiers over the past 2 years has occurred at a time when Rugby League is at its most even as every NRL side could possibly win on their day.
In previous decades a handful of teams could dominate for years on end. Teams that had good financial backing, all the best players and superior home grounds that were regularly full. Teams such as the Bulldogs, Brisbane and maybe St George (pre-merger) come to mind.
In the current era, a time where we see matches won by golden point regularly and games where a referees single penalty will turn a match – it makes the achievements of the Melbourne Storm even more impressive.
For the Storm to come out on top of the regular season table for 2 consecutive years, it shows not only their skill level and ability is superior – but their coaching team are absolute pioneers in techniques, as other clubs hastily try to follow.
The majority of NRL clubs do use wrestling coaches to improve their ruck slowing techniques, but the Storm took this to a new level – using skilled techniques to slow, hold and suspend tackled players in the air before they hit the ground – getting more time in the ruck without the worry of a penalty. Even today, opposing NRL teams try to copy the method of the Storm – but their execution is unable to match that of Melbourne.
Another tactic I believe the Storm pioneered was what I call ‘The Sleepwalker’. The sleepwalker play is where an attacking team hoists a bomb up in attack and sends several chasers through following the ball. The lead chaser or ‘sleepwalker’ will leap for the ball and keep his eye on it, but his sole intention is to ‘body check’ the opposing fullback or catcher – so his teammates can get the scraps as he and the opposition catcher collide and are taken out of play.
Several other teams are employing the tactic of ‘sleepwalkers’ now, one of the better exponents being Cronulla – where they send Luke Covell up high after a bomb and ensure his big frame collides with opposition challengers and gives Sharks outside backs the chance to collect the scraps. Referees cannot penalise a ‘sleepwalker’ because they look to be going after the ball. They have their arms up and eye on the ball, so proving it was an intentional foul is impossible.
So smart, inventive plays by Melbourne continue to keep them on top. I rate the Storm side in such regard that they may even be the best side in the past 10 years, better than their own squad that won the 1999 Grand Final and even more talented and refined than the Brian Smith coached Eel’s from 2000-2003 that broke every record in their path on the back of honed tactics and skillful execution.
Unfortunately for the current Storm crop, as it proved for the Eels earlier this decade – being the best team for long periods of time simply doesn’t guarantee anything in NRL Finals Football. They may be brilliant this current Storm squad, but they only become legends when they lift that trophy, just as their Storm ancestors did in 1999.