While the 2018 #NRL Pre-Season is still a few weeks away, there's a bunch of warm-up clashes happeni...
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Melbourne Storm 4th & 2009 NRL Premiers
Reasons Silent Storm: When Melbourne reached the finals they only had 14 wins next to their name. This was their lowest amount of wins leading into the finals series since their 13 wins leading in to the 2005 finals series. As they pushed into the Top 4 and clung onto 4th position against their arch rivals; the Sea Eagles, they were seen as less of a threat to the competition unlike previous years. With no pressure on them to win and with many punters already writing them off, Melbourne were underestimated and able to take advantage of St George Illwarra's blunder against Parramatta; ultimately giving them a week off which served them well and gave them a second final down in Melbourne instead of having to travel to Sydney. Billy the kid and the G.I. Joe: Billy Slater and Greg Inglis were simply too good at the end of the day. They scored 34 tries between them (Slater with 18, Inglis with 16) and hit form at the right time of the year. They proved to be devastating against many sides in the competition and duly deserved their Kangaroo berths. The Brett Finch factor: It will be said over and over again: Brett Finch's fairytale against his old club. Without sugar-coating the facts here, Finch helped re-invent and ignite Melbourne's attack. He gave Cronk a foil, he gave Inglis the reason to move back into the centres (where he was much more comfortable) and he reignited Hoffman's form with the bullocking forward averaging 106 metres a game and scoring 6 tries. Super Cronk: Billy Slater and Greg Inglis can always be paraded as being Melbourne's big superstars but Cronk was the man who helped weave it all together. Slater argued that he should have been the Clive Churchill Medalist after he gave their Grand Final opponents headaches with a brilliant line-break that set up Blair's try and accurate kicking throughout the match. His running game was arguably amongst the best in the League for a halfback with 48 tackle breaks.
Gains: Chase Stanley (Centre/Wing) St George Illawarra Dragons Atelea Vea (Prop) Cronulla Sharks John Kite (Prop) Canterbury Bulldogs Todd Lowrie (Lock/Second Row) Parramatta Eels Bronx Goodwin (Wing) Cronulla Sharks Luke MacDougall (Wing/Centre) St George Illawarra Dragons
Losses: Steve Turner (Wing/Fullback) Canterbury Bulldogs Joseph Tomane (Utility Back) Gold Coast Titans Will Chambers (Centre/Wing) Queensland Reds Rugby James Maloney (Five-eighth/ Halfback) New Zealand Warriors Wairangi Koopu (Centre/Second Row) Retirement Aiden Guerra (Second Row) Sydney Roosters Matt Cross (Prop/ Second Row) Manly Sea Eagles Brett Anderson (Wing) Northern Pride
Best Win of the Year: Few could argue that Melbourne's 40-12 thumping of Manly in week one of the finals wasn't their best performance of the year. The Melbourne machine was roaring and pumping. It worked smoothly and efficiently as Melbourne destroyed the defending premiers and gained a massive sense of self satisfaction in doing so after last year's hiding. Melbourne had further reason to smile less than 48 hours later when the Eels upset the Dragons, ending the Sea Eagles campaign.
Worst Loss of the Year: This was a tough one. Few pundits could pick out a result which really reflected Melbourne on a poor day but this journalist can't go past their loss to the Canberra Raiders in round 16. It was Canberra's first win over Melbourne since 2002 and their first over Craig Bellamy. Adding more insult to Melbourne's poor showing was that the Raiders were in pretty average form themselves this season and a Canberra win was never really on the cards after Melbourne smashed them 46-6 at Olympic Park in Round 10. The Raiders were much more clinical in attack that afternoon and built a 20-4 lead midway through the second-half. Melbourne were in 6s and 7s all afternoon, suffering from a confident Canberra outfit.
Statistics Melbourne scored 110 tries this season, the most in the competition. The Storm were very conservative in attack and only attempted 264 off-loads; ranked 12th in the competition. Melbourne's kicking game was incredibly efficient as they were ranked first in kicks made with 598 and were ranked second in kick metres with 17895 behind only St George Illawarra. Parramatta were the only side that out-ranked Melbourne in tackle-breaks (Eels: 1097, Storm: 1064). Dallas Johnson and Cameron Smith were extremely effective defenders and averaged 41 and 38 tackles a match respectively with both having over 90% tackle effectiveness. Billy Slater broke 165 tackles this season, behind only Jarryd Hayne with the most tackles broken at 184. Oddly enough, Greg Inglis seemed to be the team's chief field-goal kicker and kicked the only two field-goals his team scored all season. Cameron Smith is now the highest point scorer in Melbourne Storm history with the skipper scoring 888 points in his career. Melbourne's seven finals appearances, four Minor Premierships, four consecutive Grand Final appearances and two premierships sees them out-rank the Brisbane Broncos as the team of the decade.
2009 Headline "Melbourne storm to third title."
Odds to win 2010 $6.60 (odds courtesy of Betfair)
Where will they finish next year? The Storm are looking strong for next year but much depends on whether they can maintain their fitness and focus. Defending the premiership has proven impossible in recent seasons as their have been no back-to-back premiers in the last decade. The men from down South could just be the ones to break the hoodoo and defend their title.