Somehow, despite many not thinking they can do so, the Storm always dig deep and find a way to make the finals against the odds. Boasting three of the game’s very best in their respective positions in Billy Slater, Cam Smith and Cooper Cronk, the big 3 will once again play a vital role for the Storm, as will the players around them. But questions do remain. What impact can the big 3 have and will it be the same as in past years? Who will provide them with the support to elevate the Storm further? Have they recruited well enough to perform with the very top echelon of teams?
Everyone has said for some time that any success the Storm achieve is likely as a result of what has become known as the big 3 – Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater. To some extent, that is true but not as much as it once was. In the last few seasons, the Storm have seen their role players step up to become into top-notch support players that are just as important to the side as their big 3. Just over the last few years alone, the likes of Ryan Hoffman (now at the Warriors), Will Chambers, Tohu Harris, Jesse Bromwich and most recently Blake Green- among others – have all played their part in forming the Storm side into what it is today. A competition powerhouse.
Despite getting on in age, you can expect that the Storm’s current Big 3 are still going to perform at a high level. Some would question their ability to do so but good players never lose their touch, even if they may lose a bit of speed or pace. Smith is still the game’s best hooker in all forms of the game whether that be at club level or international level and in the blink of an eye, he has the ability to single-handedly change the outcome of a match.
Cooper Cronk is much in the same mold. Naturally gifted, for the last six years or so, Cronk has continued to demonstrate why he is regarded as one of the best halves in the game. A key play-maker across all forms like Smith, the vision and smart in-game play that Cronk has is why he has been so successful as a half. His game is one that complements Smith’s own attacking arsenal just as well, which is why they, along with Billy Slater – who is a great player in his own right – have formed such a crucial partnership.
But the Big 3 are no longer the be all and end all of the proud Melbourne Storm club. A player like Jesse Bromwich has become an integral part of that Big 3 by extension, cementing his spot as one of the elite props in the game. The hulking Kiwi back-rower does the dirty work and puts in the hard yards, enabling the likes of Cronk and Smith to utilise their attacking talents to good effect. His efforts lay the platform, as do the efforts of others.
An area that the Storm may be criticised in, is the general lack of depth they possess, particularly in the forwards. Although there are some good, capable replacements among their current depth, there is a belief out there that they lack another genuine front-line prop as a back-up. Whether that hurts them in the long-run is unknown – it may even see an unexpected player emerge – one thing has been clear the last few years. Craig Bellamy manages to get the very best out of players that had been previously cast asunder or somewhat ineffective, and turn them into the exact opposite. Strong, capable role-players, that offer the staunch support their top players need.
Ultimately, the Storm are one team that you never write off under any circumstances. With talented players across the park, emerging youngsters and one of the best coaches in the game in Bellamy, they are a steely, gritty side, who know how to win and how to grind games out better than most teams. With the talent they have, it would be surprising to see them not pushing for a top four spot.
Best Buy: Not overly active as some other teams in recruitment because they hvae a side already set in stone, there is one player that has a chance to impress under Bellamy, who has a proven track record to get the best out of players. That player is Cheyse Blair. A solid, strong and capable Roosters junior, Blair has had stints at both the Eels and the Sea Eagles, and joins the Storm with a chance to cement a wing spot. A mobile player for his size, Blair has shown glimpses of his form in the past but has likely lacked that final push needed to take his game to the next level. If he is willing and has the work-ethic, under a coach like Craig Bellamy, he can truly excel.
Most Promising Talent: If you are yet to hear of young buck Tony Tumusa, 2016 may just be the year that you do. A talented winger, Tumusa has a great approach and work-ethic to rugby league despite his age. That holds him in good stead and word from the Storm camp is that they rate him highly, with a possible first-grade debut not too far away for him. Excelling in the Holden Cup for the Storm and likely to start the year with the ISC’s Sunshine Coast Sea Eagles, he is one to keep an eye on particularly if he continues to perform at the level he was last year. If he does, Storm fans could see him sooner rather than later.
Our predicted line-up:
1. Billy Slater
2. Marika Koroibete
3. Cam Munster (Curtis Scott whilst he is injured)
4. Will Chambers
5. Cheyse Blair
6. Blake Green
7. Cooper Cronk
8. Jesse Bromwich
9. Cam Smith (C)
10. Tim Glasby
11. Kevin Proctor
12. Tohu Harris
13. Dale Finucane
14. Nelson Asofa-Solomona
15. Jordan McLean
16. Kenny Bromwich
17. Matt White
2016 gains: Cheyse Blair (Manly Sea Eagles, 2016), Jeremy Hawkins (Canberra Raiders, 2017), Mark Nicholls (Canberra Raiders, 2016), Matt White (Gold Coast Titans, 2016).