Melbourne Storm failed for the second season on the bounce in the NRL playoffs, suffering a defeat in the Preliminary Final at the hands of the Sydney Roosters. The Storm won the Minor Premier for the third time in four years, but were unable to rise to the occasion in the post-season as they were forced to watch their the Roosters claim the Grand Final crown once again.
Craig Bellamy’s men have the opportunity to regroup and press forward once again for the title. Their roster has remained intact without any key departures, which has seen them installed at 5/1 in the NRL odds on bet365 to win the Grand Final next term.
Melbourne have been a model of consistency since their lowest ebb in 2010 when they were deducted points in a cheating scandal regarding the salary cap. Bellamy’s team have been a winning machine, claiming the ultimate crown twice in the process. However, they have been in contention every year since 2010, placing no lower than sixth in the overall standings.
The brilliance of Cameron Smith has played a huge role in their success. He led the way once again for the club with 206 points, breaking the NRL all-time record of 2,418 points that had previously been set by Hazem El Masri. At the age of 36, Smith allayed fears of retirement by penning a new deal with the Storm, although Bellamy and company should be on the lookout for a replacement for the hook, despite his reliability and durability over the course of his career.
Easing the burden on their skipper could be huge down the stretch. Their offense was stagnant in the post-season, scoring only 10 points against the Canberra Raiders in their defeat in the Qualifying Final. It was even worse in the loss to the Roosters, mustering only six points through a Nelson Asofa-Solomona score. Smith has been outstanding for a long time, but allowing others to take control more often could lead the team back to the top crown.
Time For Youth?
Brandon Smith made a huge impact in the defeat to the Roosters. He provided a spark that threatened Sydney for a period, although Melbourne lacked the clinical edge to cut open their opponents for the decisive score. The 23-year-old could be the player to ease the pressure on his skipper by playing more minutes, especially during the middle of the campaign.
Cameron Munster also needs to take the next step in his development to become a well-rounded player. He has been solid, but there is more to come from the 25-year-old and Bellamy will be anxious to see it in 2020, having handed Muster a contract extension for another four years.
Suliasi Vunivalu and Josh Addo-Carr are scratching the surface of their ability. Both players were extremely impressive last term, with Addo-Carr leading the Storm in tries with 14 during the regular season and a brace in their victory over the Parramatta Eels in the playoffs. The frightening prospect for the NRL is that Addo-Carr could be even better with another year under his belt.
Vunivalu needs to become more consistent, scoring in bursts, although his talent is undeniable. His absence due to a hamstring injury in the Preliminary Final was a huge loss, allowing the Roosters to key on Addo-Carr. Melbourne will be on the charge once again next season, but it’s time for their younger players to take charge of the team to get their side another Grand Final crown.