Storm skipper Cameron Smith is relieved the side racked up a vital win ahead of their Round 11 bye. Credit: Robb Cox. Copyright: NRL Photos.
Melbourne started 2014 strongly but injuries to key personnel threaten to derail their premiership campaign, with a spot in the top eight certainly no guarantee.
Ladder position: 9th.
Overview: Do not adjust your screens, Storm fans. At the midway point of the season your club sits outside the top eight. At 6-6 it is Melbourne’s worst start to a season since 2003, Craig Bellamy’s first in charge. To attend a Melbourne Storm game in 2014 you better have held on to the edge of your seat. The Storm’s six wins this year have come at an average margin of just five points. One, against the Dragons in Round 6, came after the siren... a lucky escape in hindsight. Eight of their first 10 games resulted in a final margin of eight points or less.
Three straight wins to start the season were followed by a losing run of four of the next five. Gritty wins against the Sea Eagles and Rabbitohs helped to steady the ship but the aftermath of State of Origin I stopped any momentum in its tracks. Injuries to Cooper Cronk (broken arm) and Billy Slater (AC Joint) have resulted in consecutive defeats to leave Melbourne’s 2014 campaign hanging in the balance.
Positives: On the eve of the season the age of the Storm’s stars was cast into the spotlight but after 13 rounds the club appears to have unearthed the start of the next generation. Young Tonumaipea has started every game on the wing in his debut season, averaging 122 metres a game. Kurt Mann fulfilled a boyhood dream with the winning try against Manly on debut and the 19-year-old has since proved a surprise Mr. Fix-it, covering at centre in his opening three games before shifting to fullback last week against the Roosters where Bellamy indicated he was arguably the side’s best.
The re-signing of captain Cameron Smith for a further four years was a godsend for Storm fans. Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proctor also resisted the urge of more lucrative deals to re-commit, with both players, at 25 years of age, set to form the core of the side as the Big Three era concludes in the coming years.
Negatives: Injuries have been plentiful. Someone at the Storm must have walked under a ladder, forgot to touch wood or crossed paths with a black cat. The club is trying to overcome a halves crisis that saw them take on the Cowboys a fortnight ago with four of their five listed halfbacks unavailable.
The injury cloud has continued to build in Melbourne but turned into a full-blown “storm” after Game I of Origin. As though watching their worst nightmare unfold Cooper Cronk left the field with a broken arm and Billy Slater was left writhing in pain after the match with a sprained AC joint. In the two games since the Storm have scored just two tries and conceded 10. There is a reason both players along with their skipper form the Big Three – the last time the Storm won with just one of the trio playing was in Round 5 five years ago, against the Wests Tigers.
Biggest Moment: Kurt’s Mann's try in Round 9 after a Cronk cross-field, hail-Mary kick in the final minute of play - it probably takes the cake it what has been a drama-filled season. Mann’s winning try on debut overturned the downward spiral the Storm’s season appeared to be taking. Losing four of their last five games heading into the match Melbourne managed to escape with the points and travelled to Sydney to meet South Sydney full of confidence the following week, defeating the Rabbitohs and wrestling the ledger back in their favour.
NRL.com Prediction: Our ladder predictor has the Storm finishing on 28 points. This puts the perennial finals contender on the cusp of missing September action for just the second time since 2002, with five of their last seven games away from home.