13/04/2024

Ryan Papenhuyzen is set to return in 2024 (Photo: @storm/X)

A powerhouse of the competition for so long, rugby league in Melbourne is transitioning right in front of our eyes.

Only four players remain from the team that defeated the Penrith Panthers in the 2020 Grand Final; meanwhile, this year could be Craig Bellamy’s last season as coach, which would indeed mark the end of an era. 

Last year:

The Melbourne Storm improved on their 2022 efforts, finishing third last season. However, the league’s two best sides of 2023 ensured Melbourne remained distant from the silverware. A combined scoreline of 64-4 against the Broncos and Panthers in the finals series saw the Storm bow out in the preliminary final week.  

Squad Changes:

Ins: Shawn Blore (Wests Tigers) 

Outs: Tom Eisenhuth (St George Illawarra Dragons), Jordan Grant (Penrith Panthers), George Jennings (unsigned), Jayden Nikorima (Catalan Dragons, Super League), Justin Olam (Wests Tigers), Tariq Sims (Catalan Dragons, Super League)

Track watch:

Shaun Blore arriving from the Tigers recently is set to be part of the 17-men lineup. With untapped potential, the Storm may have found another player who could be a dangerous talent if he tracks well within the Bellamy and Storm culture and ways.

With Trent Loiero moving into the front row, middle rotations, Kane Bradley has surprisingly impressed the club, possibly to be in the seventeen either in round one or later in the year if he impresses in reserve grade.

Ryan Papenhuyzen has returned from season-ending injuries and had a solid outing in the pre-season trials. With some tough games in the first few rounds, expect the premiership-winning fullback to find his footing and expect a tweaked version of his game in comparison to what we have seen before his major injuries.

What to expect:

Fans can expect a young and exciting Melbourne team in 2024. There are no players above 30 in the predicted round-one side, meaning this could be a dangerous team for years to come. 

With one of the best full-back cores in the league, expect the Storm to be flashy on offence. The likes of Nick Meaney and Sua Fa’alogo are all worthy candidates for the number one jersey. However, Ryan Papenhuyzen looks destined to regain his spot. 

Melbourne will line up somewhat similarly up forward to 2023. Led by new captain Harry Grant, the contingent will look to hold down the fort once again. 

The Storm are expected to challenge for the premiership yet again as Craig Bellamy seeks his fourth premiership.  

It’s a big year for…

Harry Grant

Harry Grant has a big weight on his shoulders in 2024. In February, Grant was announced as the 15th captain of the Melbourne Storm, the youngest full-time skipper since his preceding number nine Cameron Smith.  

The 26-year-old has made a mark on the competition since returning to the Storm in 2021. An integral part of an underdog Maroons side, he has helped them win three of the last four State of Origin series. More importantly, Grant has ensured Melbourne’s 13-year drought has stayed intact – the longest in NRL history. 

Now a leading face in the Storm’s revitalisation, this could be the year Grant cements his spot amongst the top echelon. Leading the league in tackles made in 2023, the hooker finished seventh in the Dally M and will be looking to improve on that in 2024. 

More Rugby League News:

Biggest unanswered question:

Do the Melbourne Storm still have what it takes to contend for the NRL premiership?

For as long as the Storm have been under the tutelage of Craig Bellamy, they have only missed finals once. That was in 2010 after Melbourne Storm were reprimanded for their salary cap breach. It was an outcome that deemed the side ineligible to earn premiership points that season. The Victorian side went on to win 14 matches that season, which would have put them in fifth position. 

Despite their consistency in the finals, of late, the Melbourne Storm have stumbled over the hurdles leading to the Grand Final. Final eliminations in three consecutive years, including two in the penultimate round, cast a shadow of doubt over this team. Triumphant for so long, is this side capable of tasting success again before Craig Bellamy resigns? 

They sure have the pieces to challenge. Harry Grant and Cameron Munster are taking charge, Ryan Papenhuyzen is set to return, and Storm fans will be licking their lips if their pieces remain healthy and are in full flight. 

The question remains, however, around whether they can defeat the competition’s best. Penrith and Brisbane were easily the standout teams in 2023 and are expected to challenge once again. Losing by a combined 60 points in their finals against the two sides last year, Melbourne will need to prove they can stay in touch. 

Coach Index:

Low

Craig Bellamy should be under little to no pressure in 2024. The Storm have already indicated that Bellamy is in control of when he wants to transition into a Director of Coaching role at the club. 

The pressure is more likely to surround Bellamy’s quest for another premiership before retiring rather than facing the axe.  

Predicted round one line-up:

  1. Ryan Papenhuyzen 
  2. Will Warbick
  3. Nick Meaney
  4. Reimis Smith
  5. Xavier Coates
  6. Cameron Munster
  7. Jahrome Hughes
  8. Nelson Asofa-Solomona
  9. Harry Grant
  10. Christian Welch
  11. Shawn Blore
  12. Eliesa Katoa
  13. Josh King
  14. Sua Fa’alogo
  15. Tui Kamikamica
  16. Joe Chan
  17. Trent Loiero

Ladder prediction:

3rd – 6th

In a widely competitive race this season, the Storm’s ability to get to finals football should hold them in good stead once again. 

While the loss of Justin Olam is a big blow to their central depth, the return of Papenhuyzen allows Nick Meaney to make that spot his own. With a speedy line-up, the Storm could be an exciting team to watch in 2024. 

If Melbourne remains healthy, then expect them to feature heavily in September. 

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