Mid-season Report Card
Position after 13 rounds: 5th
Points diff: +91
It's been hard to put a finger on just what to make of the Storm this season. At times they have looked far removed from the once dominant club that brushed aside all and sundry on their way to three consecutive grand final appearances, but their Round 11 loss to the Bulldogs was sandwiched between a 46-6 thrashing of Canberra and, more impressively, a thumping 48-4 win over fellow heavyweights Brisbane.
But it is no doubt its the extremely high standards Melbourne has set in recent times more than any genuine fall from grace that has the critics questioning whether they are on a downward spiral.
Truth be told, Melbourne’s task was always going to become gradually more difficult with salary cap restraints playing a role in the loss of Israel Folau, Michael Crocker, Jeremy Smith, Antonio Kaufusi and the now-retired Matt Geyer over the off-season. It meant a re-shuffle of sorts, with Greg Inglis and Cameron Smith both spending time in the halves alongside Cooper Cronk as the Storm looked to click into gear early in the season, but the mid-season arrival of former Parramatta playmaker Brett Finch appears to have solved that problem.
Whether Melbourne can make it four grand finals in a row in 2009 remains to be seen but they remain among a cluster of sides battling it out at the top of the ladder and are still the most exhilarating attacking side in the competition on their day.
Are Things Going To Plan? Coach Craig Bellamy will be pleased by the more settled side that has finally started to find its feet over the past month or so. The Storm struggled early on with losses to Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Wests Tigers in the first six weeks, but the arrival of Finch has made a difference – primarily because it has allowed Inglis to move back to the centres and Cameron Smith to remain in his preferred hooking role full-time. No doubt the four teams sitting just one point ahead on the NRL ladder will be looking over their shoulders.
Injury Front… The Storm have enjoyed a good run with injuries this season with only back-rower Kevin Proctor currently sidelined. How their stars cope with the representative season will be telling as always.
If Only… Israel Folau spent two years tormenting opposition sides while playing for Melbourne but he returned the favour against his former club when he turned out for Brisbane in Round 2. Folau scored a trademark try to help the Broncos to a 16-14 win when he leapt highest to collect a kick. He is the NRL’s top scorer after 13 rounds with 11 tries from 12 games and no doubt Melbourne would love to have him still plying his trade down south.
Who’s Flying… Fullback Billy Slater has been in superb form once again this season with some scintillating runs. His kick returns (averaging 58 metres a game) continue to lay a tremendous platform and he is among the NRL’s best defensive fullbacks. Inglis (14 offloads in total and 116 metres a game) has also hit top form after a slow start to the season.
Needs To Lift… Prop Brett White played State of Origin last season but has lost his starting spot for the Storm in 2009 to Kiwi pair Jeff Lima and Adam Blair.
Assistant Coach Stephen Kearney Tells NRL.com… “People probably wondered if we had fallen away a bit at the start of the season and to be honest we weren’t happy either. We have high standards at this club.
It’s taken some time find some form but the key for us now is consistency. We needed to get our attack into gear and we’ve had some good results in that sense over the past few weeks but in between some big wins we also lost to the Bulldogs, so it’s that consistency aspect that we still need to work on.
Predicted Finish… With Melbourne starting to click into gear, they will again be eyeing a top-four finish at least.
Under-20s… The future looks bright for Melbourne with their Toyota Cup squad sitting pretty in second spot – winning 10 and losing just two games all year. The Storm boast two players in the Queensland Under-18s squad this year in Justin O’Neill and Joshua Jerome as well as NSW rep Slade Griffin.