Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 7: Melbourne Storm

Traditionally competition heavyweights, the consensus among many is that the Storm are on the slide and in a big way. Ask a lot of fans and they believe that without Cameron Smith, the Storm struggle. Whilst that may be true to an extent, the big factor in the Storm’s favour is coach Craig Bellamy, one of the best coaches in the game. Can the Storm overcome the odds and views of the fans to produce big in 2015?

The pressure is certainly on the Storm to some extent in 2015, given that they have not been as fluid or dynamic compared to past years. Though with some player turnover, some astute buys, the same core players and a coach who is at the top of his game and one of the league’s best, the Storm are expected to once again be thereabouts come finals time in 2015.

Hands down, the biggest talking point from a Storm perspective is the five-eighth role. Since the departure of Gareth Widdop, players have come and gone in the role, with Ben Hampton and Ben Roberts both playing there in 2014. Roberts has since left the club but now, Hampton is forced to vie for the position with new veteran recruit Blake Green and talented young gun Shaun Nona.
Whilst both Hampton and Nona are talented kids that have bright futures ahead of them, given the Storm have missed a cool, experienced head in the halves to partner the skills of halfback Cooper Cronk, it would be a given to say that it will be Green who will get the nod. Formerly an Eel and a Bulldog, the enigmatic utility returns from a successful stint with Wigan in the Super League and is already forming some good partnerships and putting together good performances.

An equally pressing issue is the overall forward depth at the Storm. An abundance of forwards left the club in 2015 including the likes of Ryan Hoffman, George Rose, Junior Moors and others. Although some offered more than others, it does leave the Storm somewhat short-changed on legitimate, quality forward depth, heaping even more pressure on the youngsters to perform. To some extent, the signings of Dale Finucane and Tom Learoyd-Lahrs will help fill the void but several injuries to front-line players will see talented kids like Felise Kaufusi or Christian Welch get a start. Whilst they are talented and have big futures ahead of them, the consensus among Storm fans is that neither is quite ready to make their mark at the top level just yet.

One interesting talking point is to do with the departure of Ryan Hoffman and just who will replace him in the starting line-up.
It is common knowledge that Kevin Proctor will have one back-row spot sewn up, leaving Tohu Harris and the aforementioned Finucane to battle it out for the second starting back-row spot. Both players bring something different to the table in terms of their playing styles but both are talented and will fit in well, should they be selected to start.
Finucane is the bigger body of the two and has experience playing at front-row as well, so he can use his frame and size to out-muscle opposition players. As for Harris, he is all heart, has a huge motor, a big work-rate and runs terrific lines. Harris is the sort of player that will run his backside off in a an effort to get the Storm a win. So, who gets the nod – Finucane or Harris?

The key for the Storm is going to be coping early on in the season without Cam Smith. Their inspirational captain and leader will miss at least the first month of the season and in recent times, the club have struggled somewhat without him. With uncertainty over just who will move into the hooker role – Ryan Hinchcliffe or Slade Griffin are the two potential options – they have big shoes to fill. Smith is one of the best players in the game and has the ability to manipulate any clash however he sees fit, in order to get the Storm the win. His experience, leadership and crafty dummy half play often set the tone for the Storm and to start the season without him is a huge blow for the Storm. Can they come together as one and overcome the loss or will the Storm struggle at the start without their head honcho?

Best buy: Whilst he is not a household name, he may well be the answer to the Storm’s halves issue and perform well alongside Cooper Cronk. Blake Green is a nippy, dogged type player, who has been around long enough to know his role within a team and knows what it takes to create opportunities and win. He showed glimpses of what he could do during stints with the Eels and the Bulldogs in the NRL a few years ago, before joining the Wigan Warriors and it was there that he became more consistent and a better player. Providing spark, class and finesse for the Wigan side, he was a crucial part of the team. He created countless opportunities, performed well and even won titles with the club. That level of play is something the Storm have lacked from their five-eighth in recent years, especially since the departure of Gareth Widdop.

Most Promising Talent: You may not have heard him yet but you certainly will. A young talent at the Storm who goes by the name Nelson Asofa-Solomona may well be the next big star at the club and potentially the NRL. Blessed with a natural ability to play the game, Asofa-Solomona has been turning heads over the last 12 months with blistering play – almost to the point where he is unstoppable – in both the Holden Cup and the NSW Cup. He is a prospect that has many Storm fans very excited and there is no end in sight for the talented utility.
Although there is enough depth at the Storm to cover any early injuries, the time for Asofa-Solomona will come soon and if he can continue to play like he has been over the past 12 months, he will be noticed by Craig Bellamy and an opportunity will come around sooner, rather than later. Keep an eye out for him – he can play.

2015 Gains: Billy Brittain (2015), Dale Finucane (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Blake Green (Wigan Warriors), Marika Koroibete (Mid Season: Wests Tigers), Tom Learoyd-Lahrs (Canberra Raiders), Shaun Nona (Northern Pride)

Our predicted line-up:

1. Billy Slater
2. Marika Koroibete
3. Will Chambers
4. Kurt Mann
5. Mahe Fonua
6. Blake Green
7. Cooper Cronk
8. Jesse Bromwich
9. Cam Smith (Slade Griffin during Smith’s injury)
10. Jordan McLean
11. Kevin Proctor
12. Tohu Harris
13. Ryan Hinchcliffe

14. Dale Finucane
15. Tim Glasby
16. Kenneath Bromwich
17. Tom Learoyd-Lahrs

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