28/02/2024

After last year's heartbreaking Preliminary Final defeat, and the loss of key players, can the Storm bring the trophy back to Melbourne? Photo: melbournestorm.com.au Design: Will Cuckson

After a heart-breaking defeat against the Panthers in the Preliminary Final, the Storm will be looking to enter season 2022 with a vengeance.

After a record-breaking season 2021, the Melbourne Storm fell agonisingly short in the Preliminary Final against eventual premier Penrith.

After a big off-season, including player departures, off-field sanctions and media headlines, Craig Bellamy’s squad are expected to feature heavily in September once again.

Last year

The 2021 campaign by the Melbourne Storm will go down in the history books as one of the most incredible home and away seasons of all time.

Not only did Melbourne claim the minor premiership for the fifth time in their short history, but the Storm also eclipsed the record for most wins in the NRL era and equalled the 1975 Easts record for the longest winning streak in Australian Rugby League history.

Unfortunately for Storm fans, the Eels would end the streak a week later, but it was nevertheless something to be proud about.

Having secured the 2020 premiership, the Storm were given an incredibly tough task in the first three weeks of the season, facing four of the top five from the previous year in the opening six rounds.

When the side found themselves with a record of 1-2 heading into the Good Friday clash with the Brisbane Broncos, questions were starting to be raised about whether the Storm could rise to the top once again. What followed was simply incredible. The Storm would win their next 19 fixtures, stunning the NRL world.

When Victoria’s COVID situation became even more alarming, it was announced on May 28th that Melbourne would once again have to relocate to Brisbane. Questions were again raised about whether the Storm could win the NRL for a second straight season.

With quality all over the field, the Storm once again finished top of the ladder in season 2021 and would be placed against the Manly Sea Eagles in the Qualifying Final. After a convincing 40-12 victory, the Storm would face off with the side they defeated in the previous season’s Grand Final, the Penrith Panthers.

Unfortunately for the Storm, the Preliminary Final would be their worst performance of the season and would bow out of the competition in 2021.

They lost many players upon the season’s end, including Nicho Hynes. However, Melbourne will head into 2022 with a host of new faces in the squad. If any coach can take a club to the top, it is Storm coach Craig Bellamy.

Squad changes

Ins:

Xavier Coates (Brisbane Broncos), Josh King (Newcastle Knights), Nick Meaney (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Jayden Nikorima, Sua Fa’alogo, Bronson Garlick, Cole Geyer, William Warbrick.

Outs:

Josh Addo-Carr (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Aaron Booth (Gold Coast Titans), Dale Finucane (Cronulla Sharks), Nicho Hynes (Cronulla Sharks), Max King (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Brenko Lee (Brisbane Broncos), Aaron Pene (New Zealand Warriors), Daniel Atkinson (Released), Ryley Jacks (Released), Tyson Smoothy (Released), Judda Turahui (Released).

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Track watch

Storm youngster Jack Howarth has been impressing the Storm bosses and recently penned an extension with the club.

Something that Melbourne wouldn’t have rushed into if they were unaware of Howarth’s talent. The 19-year-old Queenslander, who played representative football for his state is desperate to break into the Storm side and play at the top level for the club. His performances over the preseason haven’t harmed this at all and he is on track to feature in the Storm squad throughout the season.

Former Rugby Sevens player William Warbrick has also impressed on the training track, attempting to make the number five jersey his own as the Storm look to fill the void left by Josh Addo-Carr. While it is likely that Melbourne start by giving the jersey to George Jennings, Warbrick will be breathing down his neck all season long. A selection problem that will be very much welcomed by coach Craig Bellamy.

Elsewhere, experienced superstars such as Ryan Papenhuyzen, Christian Welch and Cameron Munster have returned to the Storm with a point to prove. Papenhuyzen showed signs of being back to his best form in last year’s finals series, Welch is in the frame to become Melbourne’s next captain, and Munster is looking to put the drug scandal behind him.

What to expect

Melbourne has retained a good crop of their 2021 squad that was one game away from another Grand Final appearance despite all of the departures.

Although the Storm will miss key players such as Josh Addo-Carr, Nicho Hynes and Dale Finucane, they have replaced them with bright young talent and experience. Young talent that can take the NRL by storm, including Xavier Coates, while experienced players including Nick Meaney and Josh King will be looking to reinvigorate their careers under head coach Craig Bellamy.

Storm fans should once again expect high paced free-flowing football under Bellamy, which has given them a lot of success. All indications show that Melbourne should once again venture deep into September and attempt to secure the premiership trophy.

It’s a big year for?

Reimis Smith

After a solid first season in Melbourne, making the number three jersey his own, Storm centre Reimis Smith will be looking to build upon that in 2022.

After signalling his intentions to stay in Melbourne, having signed a fresh two-year extension in January, Storm fans know Smith will be with them for the long haul, and they couldn’t be happier. Melbourne’s supporters fell in love with the hard-running Smith, who played a significant role in the record-breaking season in 2021.

Smith will come into the 2022 season with new expectations, and it is vital for the Storm that he carries over his form from last season that saw him be so successful under head coach Craig Bellamy.

Biggest Unanswered Question:

How do the Storm bounce back after tumultuous off-season?

From the moment the Storm finished their 2021 campaign, things began to go south, and at an alarming pace.

Just days after the Storm’s heartbreaking preliminary final defeat, three of its players, Brandon Smith, Chris Lewis and Cameron Munster were filmed in a video using an illicit substance. Sanctioned by the club in the following days, the Storm had already endured enough off-season problems.

Smith, then elected to turn his back on the club and sign with the Sydney Roosters from 2023 onwards. Hurting the Storms plans moving forward by losing a key piece of the future, who is coming off a breakout season in 2021.

Just how coach Craig Bellamy deals with Smith will be something worth watching for all rugby league fans with Harry Grant also desperate to start in the number nine guernsey.

It was also recently announced by the Storm that one of its co-captains from 2021, Jesse Bromwich would also depart the Storm at the end of the season, electing to sign on with the NRL’s newest franchise, the Dolphins.

Another burning question for the Storm is whether they can gain one more premiership with this current playing group, before the winds of change really do set in at AAMI Park.

Coach Pressure Index:

Low

With Bellamy’s record, it is very hard for the champion coach to come under much pressure. Aside from the Storm’s points being suspended in the 2010 season, as part of the salary cap saga, Melbourne’s lowest finish under Bellamy is sixth.

Bellamy rejected interest from interstate again in 2021, inking a five-year contract extension as Melbourne’s head coach.

Bellamy was also rewarded for steering the Storm’s ship to an incredible 19 straight victories, winning Dally M Coach of The Year.

The Storm will be expecting to play finals again in 2022, and while winning games will be the key indicator for success, the main question for Bellamy will be how he implements the latest batch of youth into the Storm side.

Predicted Round One Lineup:

Melbourne Storm Predicted Round One Lineup
Headshots: melbournestorm.com,au Design: Will Cuckson

Injury and suspension will severely test the Storm’s depth heading into round one.

Following Munster’s suspension, Cooper Johns looked like his likely replacement, but he suffered a shoulder injury in the Storm’s second trial game and was ruled out for 4-6 weeks, meaning Nikorima looks likely to take up the vacant spot in the halves.

Papenhuyzen and Tom Eisenhuth are also touch and go for round one and could be left on ice with the Bellamy looking at the bigger picture of the season.

Ladder Range:

1st – 4th

Considering the squad they have assembled, it is hard to picture the Storm in any other position than the top four once again.

The Storm replaced superstar Josh Addo-Carr with Queensland’s brightest young talents in Coates. Justin Olam was one of the competition’s breakout players in 2021, while George Jennings improved as the season went on. On top of this, Papenhuyzen will be back fully fit in 2022 after numerous concussions ruined his 2021 season.

Under Bellamy, Melbourne will be chasing their fifth premiership and back in front of their loyal fans at AAMI Park in their home state. Melbourne fans can expect another competitive season chasing the Provan-Summons trophy with quality players all over the field.

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