A good night for the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys in Townsville, outlasting the Vodafone Warriors...
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Likely squad: Billy Slater, Matt Geyer, Matt King, Greg Inglis, Jake Webster, Scott Hill, Cooper Cronk, Ben Cross, Cameron Smith, Garret Crossman, Michael Crocker, David Kidwell, Dallas Johnson,
Interchange: Ryan Hoffman, Antonio Kaufusi, Brett White, Glen Turner
Melbourne?s greatest strength would have to be their backline. They have tremendous players in that backline that can just bust a game wide open. Their speed, agility and all round athleticism can win the Storm matches. But in order to do that, they must have the ability to spread the ball, something that could be a problem for the Storm in 2006.
Craig Bellamy is in the top 3 coaches in the NRL. He is a young coach with great ideas. He is considered by many to be the smartest coach in the NRL by far with his training techniques, his tactics and his ability to scout talent. For the past few years with the Storm he?s been ?almost there?. Now that he has lost his key player in the off-season, there is one thing guaranteed, Bellamy will re-invent himself and his team yet again, in order to get the same level of success.
Billy Slater and Greg Inglis are two of the most exciting young players in the game and much of the Storm?s success this season will rest on these young men?s shoulders. If these two perform to their great potential, the Storm has many wins in store. If they play below their potential and crumble under the great strain of leading the team?s attack, then Melbourne will be in dire straights.
One vital weakness for Melbourne is their lack of depth in the halves and forwards. In the backs the Storm can call upon Roosters reject Chris Walker or injury ravaged fullback Steve Turner, enough to compensate. However in the halves, the Storm only have a young player in James Ausbusson, hardly enough to suggest enough depth in such a key position. In the forwards, they have lost stalwarts Robbie Kearns, Peter Robinson and Alex Chan, along with a couple of their talented prospects. The young players now brought in need to step up for the Storm to lay a solid platform.
The Storm are going through a transition period at the moment. They have lost their main strike player, their halfback and their captain. That is enough to suggest that the Storm will struggle. In Kearn?s absence, the young forwards showed they were not up to task. How will young Cooper Cronk handle the responsibility of starting halfback? He is definitely a talented young man. However, in many people?s minds, this responsibility will be too great this season, but it will bode well for the Storm?s 2007 campaign.
Much of the Storm?s attack will rely on Scott Hill and his distribution to his backs. Unfortunately for Melbourne, Scott Hill has a tendency to only play half a season, only re-enforcing the lack of depth in their halves.
The Storm?s discipline will be a problem. They have one of the most ill-disciplined forward packs in the competition. Hot-heads like Cross, Crocker and Kidwell will cost the Storm a lot of ball, something that will need to be rectified by Bellamy. While he has the backs to succeed, he has the forwards to halter that progression if the opposition can get under their skin.
One to Watch:
Cooper Cronk is not a rookie by any means, but while he has already played more than 20 games in the NRL, he is yet to have the pressure of the playmaking role consistently, hence why I picked him as one to watch.
The 22 year old, 178cm and 89kg halfback was a regular feature off the bench for Melbourne in 2005, gaining valuable experience and working out combinations with team-mates in preparation for his new role in 2006. This season Cronk will have a world of expectations on his shoulders as it is his duty to give his backs enough ball and set up play for his team. He is a strong player with a good kicking game, but he?ll need to learn quickly about how to handle being the main strike player. I feel he will thrive in this role and will prove that he is a NRL quality halfback. That?s why he?s my one to watch from Melbourne.
Gains and Losses:
Gains: Michael Crocker, Chris Walker Ben Cross, Garrett Crossman, James Aubusson.
Losses: Matt Orford, Steven Bell, Robbie Kearns, Alex Chan, Peter Robinson, Josh Graham, Robert Tanielu.
Potentially the Storm can go far in the competition. However, I just don?t see it happening. They will show glimpses of brilliance as they usually do during a season, but I fear this transition period will be too hard for even the likes of Craig Bellamy to overcome. I think the Storm will struggle this year, but will come out bigger and better in 07? once the combinations start to form, the forwards start to gel and they get an injury-free season.
My prediction is for the Storm to finish in the bottom half of the competition, between 10th and 13th.