Another day, another dive into our NRL previews, as the Melbourne Storm come under the microscope in part seven.
Another big three player is gone with Billy Slater’s retirement, leaving just Cameron Smith. Is it all doom and gloom for the Storm despite Slater’s retirement, though?
All that and more, as we look at the big issues out Storm way and how they can potentially combat them to remain a premiership force.
The man, the legend, Cameron Smith
There is no denying in any way, shape or form, that Cameron Smith is a legend of the game.
Love him or hate him for whatever reason, his impact for the Storm, the Queensland Maroons and the Kangaroos has been on show for the better part of the decade.
As his career reaches its final curtain – how many years that will be is up to Smith – his impact remains the same and perhaps, becomes even more crucial.
If ever you needed a player to flick a switch, turn a game on its head and get the Storm back into a contest to win it, Smith is your man.
Time and time again, he has done this, putting an end to a team’s dominance and instead, having that dominance play out in the Storm’s favour.
As he gets older, however, many believe he may lose a step. Though if you watch Smith closely enough, you will know that he is as fit as a fiddle.
Evidenced by how often he plays, how involved he is and how hard he works both on the field and in training.
Although he is now the last of the big three left, Smith has long had confidence in the emerging players around him.
With his leadership and galvinisation of the players around him, Smith and the Storm faithful will believe that they can remain a premiership force.
A harder task than an easier one, confidence and execution are the keys, as the Storm reshape their side yet again following retirements and new players.
The Storm’s new spine
The biggest talking point out of the Storm’s 2019 preseason is just what their spine is going to look like.
There are several options they can consider for the vacant spots available – all tempting and all bringing something different – but which is best?
Smith is the certainty at hooker and Munster will feature in the side but the make-up of the other two spine spots remains a mystery.
A lot will hinge on whether Munster replaces the retired Billy Slater at fullback or whether he stays at five-eighth.
If he makes a move to fullback, it could be a chance for Scott Drinkwater to make a name for himself in the NRL.
A budding talent, Drinkwater has proven himself at the Intrust Super Cup level and impressed Storm fans.
The risk would come in partnering him with Brodie Croft in the halves, however, given the relative inexperience between the two.
Although Croft has shown signs of good form, he is still not the finished product, if the Storm should go down that line.
Of course, should Munster stay at five-eighth, the argument for Croft increases to have a more level head alongside him that has the experience.
Should that be the case, the fullback ranks will make for interesting analysis. Jahrome Hughes is the first name that springs to mind.
In Slater’s absence last year when he was injured, Hughes showed that he is an able fullback that can penetrate the line and create opportunity.
He would appear to be the likely option but a young man by the name of Ryan Papenhuyzen will also make a play for the spot.
A prodigious talent in the Balmain ranks across SG Ball and Harold Matthews, the young fullback has performed well at Intrust level.
Whichever way the Storm go, it will be a young spine overall but with the guidance of Munster and Smith, it might just be the rejuvenation the side needs.
The Storm’s Consistencies
It goes without saying that for the better part of a decade now, the Melbourne Storm have been one of the most consistent sides.
Sure, you point the finger at having three once-in-a-generation players but if you look deeper, it is more than just that.
Storm coach Craig Bellamy has the knack to pluck a player from obscurity, be it young or old, journeyman or not, and make them a winner.
Over the years, numerous players have enjoyed success under him to varying degrees and it is a testament to his approach.
Players like Jaiman Lowe or Bryan Norrie, both cast asunder by other NRL teams, only to win a premiership in 2012.
Journeymen like Todd Lowrie or Richie Fa’aoso, who bounce from club to club, also a part of the same team.
It is Bellamy’s uncanny ability to draw out the very best from all his players that has made the Storm successful.
He demands a high work ethic and commitment to the cause. For Bellamy, hard work means good results.
Which is why so many view him as the new benchmark for coaches in the NRL.
That ability to galvanise an entire side, no matter the issues you face or the players at your disposal and make them winners.
Gains and Losses
Gains: Tom Eisenhuth (Penrith Panthers, 2020), Marion Seve (Brisbane Broncos, 2020) and Albert Vete (New Zealand Warriors, 2020).
Losses: Tim Glasby (Newcastle Knights), Ryley Jacks (Gold Coast Titans), Lachlan Timm (St George Illawarra Dragons), Louis Geraghty and Young Tonumaipea (both released) and Ryan Hoffman and Billy Slater (both retired).
Player to Watch
He has already had a small taste of rugby league action but if there is one man to cover life after Cameron Smith, it is Brandon Smith.
Not related – one being Australian, the other Kiwi – Brandon has had the perfect mentor since joining the Storm system in Cameron.
Seen as the best hooker of the modern era and even of all-time, Cameron Smith has the tools and knows all the tricks to be successful to guide young Brandon.
Already a nifty player in his own right, Brandon Smith has so far fit in well with the Storm system and is seen as Cameron’s replacement.
When that will be, no-one quite knows yet but the faith shown in him by Bellamy is a testament to how much Brandon has impressed the long-time Storm coach.
Sooner rather than later, it will be Brandon Smith playing week in and week out, and he is ready for it.
NRL News predicted team
- Jahrome Hughes
- Suliasi Vunivalu
- Will Chambers
- Curtis Scott
- Josh Addo-Carr
- Cameron Munster
- Brodie Croft
- Jesse Bromwich
- Cameron Smith (C)
- Nelson Asofa-Solomona
- Felise Kaufusi
- Joe Stimson
- Dale Finucane
14. Kenneath Bromwich
15. Christian Welch
16. Albert Vete
17. Brandon Smith
Coach: Craig Bellamy.