GRAND FINAL DAY LOCKED IN | Three big fixtures next Sunday at Sydney's ANZ Stadium! Burleigh and Ill...
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2012 will be a year of confidence, great footballing ability and a dawning of a new era for the Melbourne Storm. The Victorian club spent 2010 on the bottom of the ladder before rising to the summit of the National Rugby League in 2011. After a return to competitive football, many had the Melbourne Storm as surprise packets but they fell just one game short. This year the Storm has a seemingly perfect blend of Rugby League experience along with youth and has the potential to stake a claim at the Telstra Premiership for the second time.
With talk about redemption fading into the background, what exactly will be a driving force for the Mexicans? No one had placed any expectation on the club last season, as they cruised their way to a Minor Premiership and claimed victory to 12 straight matches through the middle of winter - also including a four game away trip. The unprecedented success of the Melbourne Storm had many people talking about how Coach Craig Bellamy had brought the Storm back from the dead - and the same people are now wondering if it can be maintained across another gruelling season.
The core of their squad in Billy Slater, Cam Smith, Cooper Cronk and the returning Ryan Hoffman will all be lining back up in 2012. Their depth also proving vital with many juniors and Toyota Cup players set to return to the full time line up, with more in line to make debuts.
The Storm should feature an improved style of play in 2012 with young players such as Gareth Widdop, Matt Duffie and Jessie Bromwich each possessing a great amount of familiarity and ability to deal with game time pressure. The attacking prowess of the team will take a hit however with the off-season departures of Beau Champion to the Titans and enforcer Adam Blair to the Wests Tigers.
In addition, as if it is becoming a habit of Bellamy's, his squad will contain another certified Journeyman. Jason Ryles will head south in 2012, along with returning second rower Ryan Hoffman. This has proved to be a key factor in previous seasons, with Brett Finch playing a vital role in their 2009 success and Clint Newton doing his part in 2007. Official or not, this may be the jump-start this team needs to move forward and claim a win on the first Sunday in October.
This season will be an interesting one and with their bar set high, who knows what these merry men are capable of.
Why they will win it
The Melbourne Storm could win the premiership off the experiences this club has gone through since the start of 2010. Players such as Matt Duffie, Gareth Widdop and Jessie Bromwich all made their debuts in a season that meant nothing but these players will never forget it. They had to play in games that meant nothing, which meant that they could chance their arm and find out what works as opposed to what will get them put on their backside. This has given them invaluable experience which helped them reach the Preliminary finals in 2011; with the likes of Widdop now being exposed to all the pressure's they never felt in their debut year. Now, the young players at the Storm have the perfect blend of ability and game time awareness to be able to adapt and play at the highest level and win in 2012. On top of this, the core remains in Victoria; with the likes of Slater, Cronk, Smith and Ryles, the Melbourne Storm will be a genuine threat at winning the title.
Why they will not win it
If the Storm were to fall short, their forward pack could very well be the reason. They got steamrolled by the Warriors in 2011 and they will continue with the same structure. They have the ability to offload and go through tiring bigger packs, however, they seem to struggle under heavy defence. Although experienced prop Jason Ryles and Ryan Hoffman will both help add size to the pack, if Melbourne cannot cope with a hard-hitting opposition, then the platform will not be set and Cam Smith's men will struggle. If the platform is not set then their big three seem to get flustered and play on a whim instead of using their methodical heads. If they find themselves in this position in 2012, they will not win the 2012 premiership.
Player to watch - Jason Ryles
The latest journeyman signed to the Melbourne Storm is Jason Ryles. Playing at the Roosters, Ryles found himself on the outs at the Sydney in 2011 and he jumped at the chance to play for Bellamy's Storm. He has the makings of a modern day 1980's prop and his big game experience could be vital for the Storm. His determination and dedication will also shine at AAMI Park in 2012, providing his best form could return to him under one of the best coaches in the game.
Rookie to watch - Tohu Harris
This intimidating 20-year old second rower stands at 194cm tall and weighs in at 109kg. Harris has been a big part of the Storm NYC program over the past few seasons, originally playing Rugby Union up until 2009 in New Zealand; he was snatched right from the hands of the Super 15. Named player of the year for the Thunderbolts in 2010, Tohu has progressed into the top 25 players. He has great footwork, good defence and a deadly offload. Look for this big kiwi in 2012.
Gains: Jack Afamasaga (France - mid season transfer), Ryan Hoffman (Wigan Warriors), Will Chambers (Munster Rugby Union), Shea Moylan (Brisbane Broncos), Mitchell Garbutt (Wests Newcastle), Michael Greenfield (St. Geogre Illawarra Dragons) and Jason Ryles (Sydney Roosters).
Losses: Chase Stanley (St. George Illarwara Dragons), Beau Champion (Gold Coast Titans), Adam Blair (Wests Tigers), Atelea Vea (St. George Illarwara Dragons), Adam Woolnough (retired), Troy Thompson (retired) and Dane Chisholm (Wests Tigers).
Re-signed: Billy Slater, Matt Duffie, Kevin Proctor, Ryan Hinchcliffe, Gareth Widdop, Maurice Blair, Sisa Waqa, Bryan Norrie, Rory Kostjasyn, Kenneath Bromwich and Mahe Fonua.
Coaching Staff: Craig Bellamy (Head Coach), Kevin Walters and David Kidwell (Assistant Coaches)
Best line up
1. Billy Slater 2. Matt Duffie 3. Dane Nielson 4. Will Chambers 5. Justin O'Neill 6. Gareth Widdop 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Cameron Smith 10. Jason Ryles 11. Kevin Proctor 12. Ryan Hoffman 13. Ryan Hinchcliffe
Interchange: 14. Maurice Blair 15. Bryan Norrie 16. Michael Greenfield 17. Sika Manu