Daniel Nichols continues his series of season reviews. Today, the Melbourne Storm are in the firing line!
Fan Prediction: Top 3
Where It Went Right: Another year, another run deep into the finals. Doom and gloom was forecast after the salary cap penalties were forced upon the Melbourne side, however those still waiting for said gloom may be waiting for a long time to come. Cooper Cronk’s Dally M medal was well deserved whilst Cam Smith has continued to prove his place amongst the premier players in the competition. Their big 3 partner Billy Slater was at his destructive best at times during the campaign, and as a then in form Sharks side can tell you as they were beaten 38-6 by a rampant Storm outfit, that when Melbourne are on song, they’re in a world of their own.
Melbourne’s amazing record of developing young players continued in the form of Tohu Harris who only missed the New Zealand World Cup side when a certain SBW made himself available. Harris will play for New Zealand in the not too distant future if he continues the form he produced in 2013. A hard running, ball playing second rower, Harris first became a fantasy football star due to his price tag, but soon became a mainstay of the all powerful Storm side. Kenneath Bromwich looks like a bright prospect for the future after his efforts when called upon, as does youngster Ben Hampton, who just might be the most exciting of yet another bunch of talented Storm youngsters.
Ryan Hoffman’s return to Storm colours after a successful sting in England added yet another dimension to the Storm attack. The Big 3 has almost become the big 4 as Hoffman proved once again he is amongst the very best in the competition. His presence will provide valuable experience to Harris, Bromwich and co. whilst taking pressure off Cronk, Smith and Slater. The Storm were also able to re-sign most of their off contract players, although Gareth Widdop may prove a big loss. There biggest re-signing of course came in the form of super coach Craig Bellamy who was publically targeted by the Dragons.
Where It Went Wrong: In a hugely uncharacteristically effort, the Storm seemed to run out of puff at the business end of the season. They were beaten fairly convincingly by an in form and powerful Bunnies outfit but then were surprisingly beaten in front of their own fans by a travelling Newcastle Knights outfit. Whereas in years gone by the Storm have hit their straps in September, they just couldn’t find that extra gear this season. Whether it was injuries, fatigue or just being outplayed by better sides on the day, the Storm were, and I hate to use this term, un-Storm-like when the finals rolled around.
The Storm have always relied on their Big 3, and quite frankly when you have 3 of the top 5 players in the world in your side, it’s inevitable that you will, but in 2013 that over reliance was a little more obvious. Dally M medalist Cooper Cronk’s heroics single handedly secured third place for the Storm with a brilliant performance over the Titans but was unable to put forward such a performance in the finals and the team suffered. Billy Slater’s injury and long layoff massively upset the balance of the team as regular ? Gareth Widdop was forced to fullback more than once during the season.
Melbourne’s no frills forward pack struggled to match it with the Bunnies and Knights in the finals and were found out a few times during the season. Ryan Hoffman is world class, and was unlucky not to feature at the World Cup, but Norrie and Ryles, although no one could ever accuse them of phone it in, struggled to lift to the levels of the Burgess brothers and co when needed. Alot will be expected of Kiwi star Jesse Bromwich and NSW hopefuls Hoffman and Hinchcliffe again in 2014.
Verdict: Although Storm fans may be disappointed by the team’s going out in straight sets in the finals series, there wouldn’t be too many sets of fans who would see finishing 3rd in the regular season as a bad season. You do get the feeling that Melbourne need to find another star who is able to take the pressure off the big names in the squad, and produce match winning performances during the Origin era, however Cronk, Slater and Smith certainly don’t show any signs of slowing down. Those waiting for the Storm to fall back into the pack may be waiting for a few more years yet.