2017 was an incredible year for the Melbourne Storm. Led by three of Australia’s greatest ever rugby league players, Melbourne secured the title for (officially) the third time since the inception of the NRL.
Billy Slater, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk, now plying his trade for the Sydney Roosters, were all instrumental in that success and that will go down as one of the best title-winning teams in Australian rugby league history.
But that was then and this is now. After a slow start to the 2018 campaign, Melbourne have started to find their feet. Adjusting after losing a player of Cronk’s stature was always going to be difficult but the Storm struggled more than most expected. Craig Bellamy’s men are currently sixth in the NRL table – having lost five of their 11 matches this year. To put this into perspective, Melbourne lost just four games in 2017. They did put on a real show against the Leeds Rhinos, though, in the 2018 World Club Challenge.
On paper, this Storm side is still potentially the best in Australian rugby league. Melbourne have that ‘big game’ experience but inconsistencies continue to haunt them. Bellamy knows that the likes of Slater and Smith are capable of turning a game on its head in the blink of an eye but Melbourne cannot rely on those two men. It is time for some of the younger stars to step up to the plate.
St. George Illawarra Dragons are arguably the team to beat this year. Currently sitting pretty at the top of the NRL ladder after winning nine out of 11 games, the Dragons have both the quality and desire to go the distance. St. George Illawarra are relatively inexperienced at the business end of the NRL campaign though and that could work against them in the coming months. It should be an exciting second half of the season if nothing else…
At the time of writing, the Storm are 5/1 second-favourites over at William Hill and plenty of punters will fancy Melbourne to get back to their brilliant best. As the business end of the year approaches, the Dragons may crumble under pressure and the Storm are better placed than most to take full advantage. Brodie Croft should have settled by then and his build-up play will be key – both this year and in future seasons.
The vitriol being directed at @storm half Brodie Croft is abhorrent and plain wrong. The kid wasn’t the reason Melbourne lost. Remember, he’s a talented 19 year old No.7 who’s 11 Games into his NRL career. Consistency comes with time and experience #NRLTigersStorm #NRL pic.twitter.com/JiL6MTeG72
— Daniel Watson Hayes™ (@dwatsonhayes) April 7, 2018
Defensively, Melbourne haven’t been good enough this year – not even the most ardent of Storm fans would argue against that point. Bellamy’s men are sixth in the table for a reason; Melbourne have been unable to stop other teams from scoring. Another difficult month of fixtures awaits but if anyone can stop the rot, it is the Melbourne Storm.
It would take a brave man to write the Dragons off on current form but Craig Bellamy’s side have the experience to push their NRL rivals close. Melbourne have been very hit and miss so far this year and the Storm will need to improve to defend their crown. If everything goes to plan, Melbourne Storm will be back fighting it out at the top of the table in the second half of the year and Grand Final glory may follow suit.