2011 Season Preview - Melbourne Storm

One of the interesting stories in 2011 will be to see how Bellamy and his chargers go about their quest of redemption. Following the mantra that saw Barrick Obama take office three years ago, Melbourne have made changes to just about every facet of their organisation and enter the upcoming season with an inexplicable mixture of familiarity and freshness.

With those factors in mind, it's quite difficult to place any kind of expectations on the Storm. Sure their formidable spine of Slater, Cronk and Smith remains intact and the squad is made up of names such as Blair, Manu and new recruit Beau Champion but with so many rookies and journeymen it's difficult to gauge the Storm squad as a whole.

What we do know is that Bellamy has a history of getting the best out of these type of players. Considering he's the coach who unearthed the likes of Greg Inglis and revived the careers of Ben Cross and Jeff Lima so it's reasonable to assume these players are in the right hands.

As always it's expected Melbourne will play the same clinical style that brought them a lot of success in previous seasons. Expect to see Smith roll the forwards on through the middle of the ruck before going wide to Cronk and Slater who will look to link with their outside men, it's easy to predict but sure as hell hard to defend against.

One not so easy point to predict is who will fill the five eighth role made vacant by Brett Finch. Current candidates include Luke Kelly, Jake Hawkins and Maurice Blair but we here at League Unlimited feel that English international Gareth Widdop will get the first crack at the role on the back of his running game and ball skills. In saying, it will be interesting to see what kind of role any five eighth plays for Melbourne in 2011.

Meanwhile with the departures of Inglis and Hoffman Melbourne it will be interesting to see what new tricks Melbourne could come up with. It may even prove to be a blessing in disguise, well at least the departure of Hoffman who managed to get in the way of Inglis on a number of occasions and get picked off quicker than a rotten egg at a farmer's market.

With these changes in mind, it will be interesting to witness Storm's revival in 2011. With so many talented players filling key roles it's fair to say they'll be in the thick of it through out the season, how they stack up come September will be the ultimate challenge for Bellamy and his chargers.

Player To Watch - Beau Champion
Offloaded by a desperate South Sydney club Beau finds himself in Melbourne during the dawn of a new era. Champion has always had the potential to be a fantastic player with only moments of severe defensive lapses proving to be a disappointment, it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to the Storm's clinical style of play and the effects it has on his game. Many players have made the trek down to Melbourne and come out Origin players, will Beau follow in their footsteps?

Rookie To Watch - Elijah Niko

Standing at 192cm Niko is one of the biggest wingers in Rugby League. Has already been compared to Israel Folau by captain Cam Smith and Storm fans will be hoping their daring rake is right on the money. Keep your eyes out for Mitchell Johnson too, a giant second row who's causing waves this preseason.

Gains: Beau Champion and Jaiman Lowe (South Sydney Rabbitohs) Troy Thompson (Canberra Raiders) Elijah Niko (Warriors) Maurice Blair (Penrith Panthers) Mitchell Johnson (Parramatta Eels) Tu'u Maori (Newtown Jets) Sisa Waqa and Adam Woolnough (Released)
Losses: Greg Inglis (South Sydney Rabbitohs) Brett Finch, Jeff Lima and Ryan Hoffman (Wigan Warriors) Aiden Tolman and Ryan Tandy (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs) Brett White (Canberra Raiders) Maiple Morseau (Newcastle Knights) Billy Rogers (Parramatta Eels) Sam Joe, James Woolford, Hep Cahill, Louis Fanene, Sinbad Kahli and Luke MacDougall (Released)

Predicted Best Line-Up
1. Billy Slater 2. Matt Duffie 3. Beau Champion 4. Dane Nielsen 5. Justin O'Neil 6. Gareth Widdop 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Bryan Norrie 9. Cam Smith 10. Adam Woolnough 11. Adam Blair 12. Sika Manu 13. Todd Lowrie
Bench: 14. Ryan Hinchcliffe 15. Sione Kite 16. Kevin Proctor 17. Troy Thompson

Sea Eagles (H)
Titans (H)
Cowboys (A)
Bulldogs (H)
Eels (H)
Panthers (A)
Warriors (H)
Knights (H)
Test & CvC
Broncos (A)
Raiders (H)
Bye (Round 11)
State of Origin I
Sharks (H)
Rabbitohs (A)
Roosters (H)
State of Origin II
Tigers (A)
Warriors (A)
Bye (Round 17)
State of Origin III
Bulldogs (A, Adelaide)
Raiders (A)
Broncos (H)
Eels (A)
Panthers (H)
Titans (A)
Dragons (H)
Sea Eagles (A)
Roosters (A)