A perennial powerhouse of the NRL for the better part of a decade, many have made the argument that the Melbourne Storm are the most consistent side during that period. As we look to 2017, however, there are some question marks around the team and the make-up of it. Will it affect them for better or for worse? Will their players adapt to shifting positions?
Perhaps the major question on everyone’s lips is whether or not Billy Slater will actually start the season. The last 18 months for the entertaining fullback has been dogged with shoulder injuries and surgeries, obviously limiting both his time on the field and his time at training.
To the untrained eye, one might believe that because he is yet to feature in a trial game for the Storm, that it might mean he will miss the start of the season as he continues to recover. The NRL is a funny game, though, and if he and coach Craig Bellamy believe he can handle the rigours of the game once more, he may yet return for Rd 1. To find out, we will have to wait until team lists are released for Rd 1 which is a couple of weeks yet. Should he not play, you would expect that Cam Munster will continue in the role that he performed so well in last year.
With that in mind, though – and this brings us to the next point on the Storm – is that Cam Munster has been slated with a move to 5/8 for the 2016 season. A gifted runner and playmaker in his own right, many believe that Munster would make a seamless transition into the role and support elite halfback, Cooper Cronk. Of course, he is not the only option that is available to the club or coach Craig Bellamy. Gaining traction is young gun Brodie Croft who has impressed many with the effortless nature to which he has come into the first-grade arena via trials and the Auckland Nines.
Looking comfortable in the roles given to him, Croft has been slated as a starter for a while now and if he gets the nod, there will be no better halfback to play alongside to develop his game and nurture than Cooper Cronk.
Another interesting aspect of the Storm setup in the 2017 season is finding the direct replacement in the back-row for Kevin Proctor. The first name that springs to mind is Kenny Bromwich. Playing as the impact back-rower off the bench, he has made himself known as a solid player that runs hard and provides punch and power. With a chance now ahead of him to start and increase his minutes, he looms as the favourite to move into the role and based on his first-grade experience, you would expect him to get the nod.
One other surprising candidate whose name has emerged is Joe Stimson. Having come through the Storm ranks, he knows the expectations of the club and how he has to perform and to date, he has done that well. A key player in every team he has so far played in, he is a tremendous line-runner and is even a smokey for a bench role. Should his opportunity not come at the start of the season, it is just a matter of time before Stimson does get one and in the eyes of Storm fans, it will be just desserts.
In the end, you would expect, as usual, that the Storm will have a solid season and end up in the top four. Such is the nature of their side with the likes of Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Jesse Bromwich, as well as the emergence of Cam Munster and other players, the Storm side is well equipped to deal with whatever might be thrown their way. With coach Craig Bellamy’s ability to extract the best out of his players, their consistency levels remain at a high and more often than not, they always find a way to win and perform.
Best buy: Signing mostly depth players, the one signing that stands out is that of Josh Addo-Carr. A tremendously pacey winger, Addo Carr is nicknamed ‘the Fox’ and has a chance to not only get an opportunity but to hold down the fort and retain that wing spot for many games to come. Tigers fans were disappointed to see him go and it was the Storm who acted the swiftest, knowing that they needed a winger to replace the equally impressive Marika Koroibete. Whilst a different player from the Fijian, they both have their own spark and x-factor that can help the Storm side moving forward and do something that they do well in rugby league – scoring points.
Best Young Talent: Patiently waiting his turn to make an impact in first-grade, Joe Stimson has a great opportunity to get a start at some point in 2017. Everywhere he has played, whether it is for the Storm’s Holden Cup side or for their feeder teams, he has performed consistently and the head honchos at the Storm have noticed.
There has been some talk that he might start the season but given the form and faith in Kenny Bromwich, Stimson may have to bide his time. A great line-runner, Stimson knows how to hit the gap and how to create the break to lead to a sound attacking play. Storm fans know how good he is and very soon, the entire NRL will as well.
2017 gains: Josh Addo-Carr, Jahrome Hughes, Ryley Jacks, Vincent Leuluai, Justin Olam & Brandon Smith.
Our predicted Storm line-up at full strength:
- Billy Slater
- Josh Addo-Carr
- Curtis Scott
- Will Chambers
- Suliasi Vunivalu
- Cam Munster
- Cooper Cronk
- Jesse Bromwich
- Cam Smith (C)
- Jordan McLean
- Kenny Bromwich
- Tohu Harris
- Dale Finucane
14. Nelson Asofa-Solomona
15. Tim Glasby
16. Christian Welch
17. Felise Kaufusi