Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 7: Melbourne Storm

Going back-to-back in today’s age of the NRL is far from an easy task. If any side was going to do it, however, the Melbourne Storm would be prime candidates. 

The Melbourne Storm are never a side to discount at any given time with their calibre of players and master coach and tactician Craig Bellamy, the competition always gets tougher every year.

Life Without Cooper Cronk

With Cooper Cronk, the Storm achieved many, many great things. In 2018, for the first time in forever, the Storm will enter the season minus their playmaking maestro.
As we all know, after tossing up whether or not to retire, Cronk made a decision to move to Sydney and take up a deal at the Sydney Roosters, one that shocked many.

After proving his worth across every arena on a consistent basis since joining the Storm, the club is left with the challenge of plugging the gap left by his departure.
That alone is no easy feat given just how good he was for them and how difficult it is to perform consistently at the NRL level for any player.

All hope is not lost, however, with one man seen as the front-runner for the role. That man, is Brodie Croft, a young playmaker who, in the eyes of some Storm fans, believe he is a Cooper Cronk clone.
They may not be far off the mark either, given the abilities and skills he possesses, as well as his consistency when playing for feeder sides and in the NRL.

As always, his relative inexperience will be the main factor that everyone points to should he not perform well. With that in mind, he is expected to be the man that Bellamy turns to and more often than not, the kids that Bellamy puts faith in end up succeeding.
Croft will not have to go to war on his own, however, with Cameron Munster coming off a career-best season by his side to help him through the trenches.

The Return of the Hoff

A favourite son among many, the veteran forward has returned for a second stint at the Storm and it could not come at a better time.
With the departure of Tohu Harris to the Warriors, the club lacked a hole-runner on that edge but have found it with the return of the veteran.

Although he is not getting any younger, his experience and leadership will be the key the Storm need to continue their consistency. Alongside fellow back-rower Felise Kaufusi, who is coming off a career-best season, the two are expected to perform regularly.

Equally important in Hoffman’s return is that he will be able to nurture, guide and help develop the club’s next generation of back-rowers. Particularly that of both Kenny Bromwich and Joe Stimson, who although talented, are yet to take their games to the next level.

Under the leadership and guidance of a seasoned premiership-winning veteran in Hoffman, the pressure can come off the other leaders and coach Bellamy, as Hoffman potentially takes the duo under his wing.

The Flying Wingers

Finding one consistently good winger is hard enough but to find two of them and have them performing consistently is no easy feat. Suliasi Vunivalu and Josh Addo-Carr are without question, two of the top wingers in the league right now for various reasons.

Quick, deceptively strong, speedy and consistent, the duo have established themselves as the elite wing pairing, leaving other wing pairings in awe of their abilities.
Together, they are try-scoring machines, each with their own tremendous talents.

Addo-Carr, nicknamed ‘the Fox’ is regarded as one of, if not the fastest player in the NRL right now and any time he is open space, he flies like the wind. Faster even. Whether it is created from nothing in the backfield or whether he produces an opportunity himself, Addo-Carr has the speed to burn and no-one can keep up.

Although quick in his own right, Vunivalu’s greatest attribute comes in the air. With kicks of pinpoint accuracy directed towards the corner, Vunivalu often soars like Superman through the air, making a leap, catch and put-down seem easy.

If the duo can emulate their 2017 exploits and efforts, they will cement their spot as the elite wing duo and the Storm will again go a long way towards back-to-back premierships.

Gains and Losses

Gains: Sam Kasiano (Canterbury Bulldogs), Sandor Earl (drug ban), Ryan Hoffman (New Zealand Warriors), Patrick Kaufusi (North Queensland Cowboys), Ryan Papenhuyzen (Wests Tigers), Cooper Johns, Kayleb Milne, Junior Ratuvu, Lachlan Timms & Billy Walters.

Losses: Jesse Arthars, Dean Britt, Cooper Cronk, Charlie Galo, Slade Griffin, Tohu Harris, Jeremy Hawkins, Vincent Leuluai, Jordan McLean, Nate Myles, Mark Nicholls, Robbie Rochow & Jake Turpin.

Player to Watch

The successful teams are always on the lookout for players that are similar to their stars and the Storm are one of the best at it.
When you think of Cameron Smith and the mastery to which he plays the game and how he controls it, finding such a similar talent would be rare.

The Storm believes, however, as do their fans, that they have found a player capable of emulating that sort of success to some degree in Brandon Smith. Blessed with the same toughness and awareness as his namesake, Brandon Smith will go far in rugby league if his early appearances are anything to go by.

Crafty, nifty and a genuine pocket-rocket in and around the ruck, his ability is display regularly. When you watch him closely, it is easy to see the comparisons that some are making with Cameron Smith. An Ironman in his own right, Cameron Smith will eventually have to retire and when he makes that decision, Brandon Smith will be there waiting in the wings and waiting for that regular opportunity.

Predicted Line-Up

  1. Billy Slater
  2. Suliasi Vunivalu
  3. Will Chambers
  4. Curtis Scott
  5. Josh Addo-Carr
  6. Cameron Munster
  7. Brodie Croft
  8. Jesse Bromwich
  9. Cameron Smith (C)
  10. Tim Glasby
  11. Ryan Hoffman
  12. Felise Kaufusi
  13. Dale Finucane

14. Sam Kasiano
15. Kenny Bromwich
16. Christian Welch
17. Ryley Jacks

Coach: Craig Bellamy.

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