2018 PREVIEW 🔍 Lucky thirteen? South Sydney Rabbitohs are next up in our #NRL club preview series. J...
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The same discussion is had every year - in the modern era, how likely is a team to go back-to-back? Brendan Thurbon looks ahead at how the Melbourne Storm will look to defend their title in 2018.
In terms of 2017 for the Storm you could argue two things went wrong. Cheyse Blair got seriously injured and Cameron Smith didn't pick up a Clive Churchill to ensure that the 'big three' finished their careers together having each collected all major individual honours that the game has to offer. I was lucky enough to be at the grand final and in my humble opinion, Smith was definitely unlucky not the collect this award, although with that in mind Billy Slater was also brilliant, as were Cooper Cronk and Tohu Harris too.
2018 presents a very exciting although somewhat daunting challenge for the Storm, never under Craig Bellamy has player turnover seen any of the three wise men leave the club. The club has lost stars before but none of those who are the guiding force out on the field. In losing Cronk, the Storm have lost a player who executes any game plan that is presented to him to within an inch of perfection, whilst he can be criticised for not being able to stray from these plans when the situation calls for it you must keep in mind the fact that rarely had the situation called for it.
In steps Brodie Croft, a young man who has already been dubbed Cronk 2.0. Wow! What an awful lot of pressure to be shouldering at just 21 years of age after only three first grade games. While he might have starred in those games there's a huge difference between running around a couple of times a year and delivering on the expectations of a fanatical supporter base and even and more intesne coach.
Aside from the obvious loss of Cronk, star performers in Harris and Jordan McLean have left a few question marks over the forward pack, however the development of Joe Stimson, Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Felise Kaufusi in the last 12 months has somewhat abated those concerns. The addition of experience in Ryan Hoffman could prove to be an astute signing if not on field but off field in the professional development of these young stars, lastly we have Sam Kasiano, 'Dogzilla'. In an ideal world for Storm fans he will become Zeus, god of thunder on the field, and shock opposition forward packs with his impact from the bench.
The next player in line does their job. It's a simple mantra, but one which the Storm have not only adopted but made part of their DNA since Bellamy has been in charge. It doesn't matter if you're a 300 game premiership winning half back or a 3 (check this) game half back, you do your job and everything around you will take care of itself. There's no other team who regenerates like the Storm do and each year that the doubters grow louder seemingly brings stronger performances out of the old bulls in the team. Beyond this there's something about a forward pack that can lose two internationals and on paper be even more intimidating the next year - with 'NAS' and 'KAS' coming off the bench the Storm will be booking extra seats on planes for away games, as these two are absolute giants!
If you lose arguably the greatest executor of plans the game has ever seen then surely there are going to be hiccups, couple with this that you've lost some 700+ games worth of combination between the three heads of Cerberus then surely you lose something. In Jordan McLean and Tohu Harris the Storm have lost a lot, reliable & consistent but also damaging to the opposition in their own right, not to mention the fact that they have come through the Storm system, so their each and every move has been programmed into them since day one, it can be a hard system to adapt to, and the churn from 2017 may prove too much for even Bellamy and his on field generals in Slater and Smith to overcome.
Realistically there's only one - B Croft, or Cronk 2.0. Call him what you want but if the Storm are to continue to enjoy the sort of success that is expected of them from pundits, punters and fans alike then this man will be the fulcrum of that success.
Casting aside for a minute the fact that the Storm have a new co-pilot, there are other players to keep an eye on. By all reports Sam Kasiano is going to be fitter and stronger than when he won the Dally M Prop of the year on the way to a grand final appearance in 2012 and as laughable as it sounds but a certain Josh Addo-Carr is definitely a player to watch, a second season in the Bellamy system will only ever improve a player who definitely over achieved all that was expected of him last year, a bolter in all senses of the word for the NSW side?
Craig Bellamy has a knack for fast tracking outstanding rookies; think Greg Inglis, Israel Folau, Curtis Scott. Funnily enough all outside backs, and it's with this in mind that makes me believe that Justin Olam might be the name to watch, with at least three of the Storm outside backs likely to be unavailable during Origin there will be ample opportunity for this young man to prove he has what it takes to step up from Intrust Super Cup to NRL level - I for one can't wait, he's a star in waiting!
I'm offering two 'Best 17's' as I did in my preview this time last year - the one that Bellamy would likely pick; and the one I would pick.
For me, I'd go with:
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 10. Tim Glasby 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Kenny Bromwich 13. Dale Finucane
Interchange: 14. Patrick Kaufusi 15. Sam Kasiano 16. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 17. Christian Welch
Not a lot of difference, but I'm hassling the Hoff.
Here's what I think Bellyache will go with: