Sunday 17 December 2017 / 02:59 PM

NRL TITLE CONTENDERS: MELBOURNE STORM

The Storm have always been a side that most people have admired for their clinical attack and teamwork, mostly between the ‘Big Three’ of fullback Billy Slater, halfback Cooper Cronk and rake Cameron Smith.

However this season it has been their uncompromising defence which has carried them to the top of the ladder. Their 22-8 loss to the Raiders in Round 23 was the first time this year that the Storm had conceded more than 20 points in a game (they conceded 20 points twice). They’ve lost just four games in 2016, but have had some patchy moments in their last six games.

Why They Can Win

They have Cameron Smith. This man is so clutch he can win games whenever he wants, say from dummy-half, 30 metres out and needs to pot a field goal. Or perhaps needing to convert a try from the sideline and falls over as he is about to strike the ball, and it still goes over. He’s so cool, his blood has to be heated before it can be drawn. And even as he gets older, his form has barely wavered. Combine this with his toughness and amazing ability to avoid serious injury, and you have the backbone of an entire side.

Why They Can’t

Smith and Cronk. While the Storm have a brilliant top 17, they are lacking in depth players when it comes to the spine. The club was forced to rush Cameron Munster’s apprenticeship due to a horror run of injuries for their phenomenal custodian Billy Slater, however Munster has excelled. The back-up options for Smith and Cronk, though, aren’t anywhere near as good as Munster, let alone the men they’d replace. The Storm rely heavily on Smith’s control and Cronk’s planning. If either of them gets injured, or are effectively targeted by opposition defences, the side’s attacking ability becomes nullified very quickly.

Key Player

Jesse Bromwich. Arguably the best prop in the world right now, he’s the go-to man if the Storm’s attack is being shut down. The current Kiwi Test captain isn’t afraid of the dirty work and is a behemoth hitting the ball up, especially when the real hard yards are needed. His work with ball in hand has been able to give Smith and Cronk that little bit more extra time when they need it to pull off important plays. Bromwich’s work is vital to the Storm’s attack and momentum.

Squad Health

The Storm have been without Billy Slater since Round 1 due to a recurring shoulder complaint. Slater has opted to take the season off and get it fixed properly so that he can return fully fit in 2017. The only other injury of note is to Jordan McLean, who sustained an ankle injury in Round 17. He’s expected back in Round 25, just in time to get match-fit before the finals begin.

Finals Record

Melbourne has appeared in 37 finals matches, picking up 22 victories and 15 losses. However, since their salary cap scandal in 2010, they have appeared in 10 finals matches, winning five and losing five. Their recent run of post-season form isn’t very good either, with one win from their last five finals appearances.

Run Home

The Storm have a pretty rough run home, especially after their trip to Canberra saw them come home without the biscuits – although they comfortably accounted for bitter rivals Manly at Brookvale last weekend, 38-18. In Round 25 they host the Broncos and in Round 26 they play what potentially could be the game to determine the minor premiership against the Sharks at AAMI Park.

[YouTube – NRL Hub]

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About the author

Andrew Ferguson

A rugby league historian and stats buff – most notably as the brains behind the phenomenal Rugby League Project resource – Melbourne-based Andrew has written extensively for Rugby League Review and the Men of League magazine, and is a valued addition to CBS’s rugby league stable.

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