2018 Review: Melbourne Storm

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Storm haunted by former star as they fall short at the final hurdle again.

No team since the Broncos in 1992-93 have managed to secure back to back premierships - and this trend continued as the Melbourne Storm fell at the last hurdle for the second time in three years. All the headlines prior to kick off of the 2018 Grand Final centred on whether former Storm star Cooper Cronk would play for the opposing Sydney Roosters in the decider, however it was his halves partner Luke Keary who put on a masterclass in a game where the Melbourne side never fired a shot. It was the Roosters who also denied the Storm a third successive Minor Premiership, with a last round win for the Tricolours ensuring the JJ Giltinan Shield also went to the eastern suburbs of Sydney.

2018 shaped up as a year where many were not sure what to expect of Melbourne, promising young half Brodie Croft shaped as a like-for-like replacement of Cronk, but they are big shoes to fill! Through the year the Storm played with a number of different halfbacks, but still managed to go within a whisker of the Minor Premiership, speaking volumes about the influence of Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cameron Munster, as well as the growth of a young forward pack who will continue to be a formidable group for many years to come.

It also saw the Storm say goodbye to two club legends in Slater and Ryan Hoffman - though Hoffman had his cards marked about three-quarters of the way through the season, regularly being left out for promising young forwards in the form of Christian Welch and Joe Stimson.

After an inconsistent start to the regular season including two losses to the Wests Tigers before Round 6, Melbourne started to find their mojo with Croft being dropped in favour of Ryley Jacks - a less flashy playmaker, but a more stable influence on the team who provided adequate service to backline stars such as Slater, Munster and winger Josh Addo-Carr.

The ANZAC Day clash with the Warriors saw the Storm make a major statement to the competition that despite the loss of Cooper Cronk they were still one of the stronger teams in the competition. An Origin-affected clash with St George Illawarra saw more than 80 points scored in a see-sawing game that wasn't decided until the Storm kicked away in the last 15 minutes. Disappointing losses to Penrith and South Sydney as well as the early-season losses against Wests Tigers were lowlights in what was an otherwise largely successful season. After playing two high intensity and high-skill finals matches, the Storm ultimately saved their absolute worst for last, with key players such as Munster and centre Will Chambers having matches to forget on the NRL's biggest stage, they were however not helped by a forward pack who refused to stand up on Grand Final night.

Turning point

Brodie Croft's return to first grade - and return to form - late in the season enabled the Storm to go on a run to yet another decider - their third in a row. One particular play against South Sydney in Week 1 of the finals saw Croft step through the line late in the half with some sharp footwork before laying on an inch-perfect kick for Suliasi Vunivalu to score in the corner - only a supremely confident halfback feeling at the top of his game could have come up with such a play. The try put the Storm ahead at halftime in a match they ultimately won by a solitary point.

What worked

A slick backline, some big forwards and an ageing superstar in Slater who saved one of his best seasons for his last. Slater's incredible season at all levels saw him claim the State of Origin Wally Lewis Medal for Queensland - despite playing only two of three matches and his Maroons side losing the series.

The Storm were at their miserly best in defence yet again, conceding less than 16 points per game.

What didn't

A year that was largely perfect aside from two nights: the minor premiership slipping away with a scrappy loss to Penrith in the final round, and a Grand Final where the men in purple and navy failed to fire a shot against opposition who were carrying a passenger in the defensive line.

Best players

Billy Slater's farewell tour headlined the season and his ever-reliable work at the back will be a hard gap to fill in 2019.

Thankfully for the Storm, their club player of the year in Cameron Munster - who also took home NRL five-eighth of the year at the Dally M awards - is here to stay. Munster offered 18 try assists across the Storm's 27 matches, evidence of his ability to step up in spite of a rotating set of halfbacks throughout 2018. While he failed to fire on Grand Final day, his overall performance throughout the year was the measure of the man.

Since his debut in 2015, Nelson Asofa-Solomona has gradually become a mainstay on the Melbourne Storm interchange, occassionally nabbing a starting spot in the Storm's growing forward pack. 

Disappointing player

Sam Kasiano signed on with much fanfare and started the season in the best shape since 2012 when he took the competition by storm, it looked like another master stroke from Craig Bellamy, it turned out to be a year punctuated by injuries and poor form with Sam Kasiano having minimal impact throughout 2018.

Feeder club round-up

Melbourne's three feeder clubs had varying degrees of success. In the Intrust Super Cup, Easts Tigers took their campaign all the way to the Grand Final after finishing 5th in the regular season, falling short in the decider against premiers Redcliffe. Melbourne's other feeder at the top level in the Sunshine Coast Falcons recorded a tenth-place finish.

Hastings Deering Colts Under 20's saw both the Tigers (13th) and Falcons (10th) miss the finals, however the Victoria Thunderbolts qualified for the finals, finishing fourth and progressing to the second week of the finals after a Week One win over Wynnum, ultimately eliminated by Cowboys affiliate Northern Pride.

While the Storm's relationships with Easts and Sunshine Coast continue at both levels in the QRL, the Thunderbolts will switch to NSWRL competitions in 2019, with the Under 20's side entering the Jersey Flegg Cup and Under 18's into the SG Ball Cup.

Looking ahead

A young forward pack and the debut of some exciting players Justin Olam and Scott Drinkwater means the Storm will remain competitive in 2019 - but can Craig Bellamy mastermind another push to a Grand Final? I don't believe so, but I would be surprised to see the Storm not playing through to at least the second week of the finals next season.

Potential 2019 lineup

Based on current signings

1. Cameron Munster
2. Josh Addo-Carr
3. Curtis Scott
4. Will Chambers
5. Suliasi Vunivalu
6. Jahrome Hughes
7. Brodie Croft
8. Jesse Bromwich
9. Brandon Smith*
10. Nelson Asofa-Solomona
11. Kenny Bromwich
12. Felise Kaufusi
13. Dale Finucane

14. Joe Stimson
15. Tui Kamikamica
16. Christian Welch
17. Sam Kasiano

* Note: at time of publication, Cameron Smith was yet to sign a 2019 contract

2018 Results

1
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 18
Melbourne Storm 36
W
2
Melbourne Storm 8
Wests Tigers 10
L
3
Melbourne Storm 30
North Queensland Cowboys 14
W
4
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 14
Melbourne Storm 4
L
5
Wests Tigers 11
Melbourne Storm 10
L
6
Melbourne Storm 40
Newcastle Knights 14
W
7
Brisbane Broncos 20
Melbourne Storm 34
W
8
Melbourne Storm 50
Warriors 10
W
9
St George Illawarra Dragons 34
Melbourne Storm 14
L
10
Melbourne Storm 28
Gold Coast Titans 14
W
11
Melbourne Storm 4
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 24
L
12
North Queensland Cowboys 6
Melbourne Storm 7
W
13
Melbourne Storm 0
BYE
14
Melbourne Storm 32
Brisbane Broncos 16
W
15
Newcastle Knights 10
Melbourne Storm 28
W
16
Sydney Roosters 8
Melbourne Storm 9
W
17
Melbourne Storm 52
St George Illawarra Dragons 30
W
18
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 13
Melbourne Storm 14
W
19
Warriors 6
Melbourne Storm 12
W
20
Melbourne Storm 44
Canberra Raiders 10
W
21
South Sydney Rabbitohs 30
Melbourne Storm 20
L
22
Melbourne Storm 14
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 17
L
23
Melbourne Storm 20
Parramatta Eels 4
W
24
Gold Coast Titans 8
Melbourne Storm 10
W
25
Melbourne Storm 16
Penrith Panthers 22
L
Finals Week 1
Melbourne Storm 29
South Sydney Rabbitohs 28
W
Finals Week 3
Melbourne Storm 22
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 6
W
Grand Final
Sydney Roosters 21
Melbourne Storm 6
L

By the Stats

34
Competition Points
16
Matches Won
0
Matches Drawn
8
Matches Lost
536
Points Scored
363
Points Conceded