Season Preview: Melbourne Storm

THE premiers surely can’t make a fifth straight grand final, can they? It hasn’t been done since South Sydney won four of five titles between 1967 and 1971, so they’d be smashing recent history. <br><br>But even the weight of the past isn’t enough to write this mob off. Sure they have lost a few players, sure other teams have improved, and sure rep duty, a trip to England and an All Stars match have interrupted their off-season and pre-season. But with an expert coach and more than a few superstars, this team could keep the dynasty going for some time yet.<br><br><b>Their Keys To Success…</b> More of the same. How do you fault a team that has played the past four grand finals? The Storm are disciplined in every aspect of the game and it ensures they remain successful. <br><br>They need to continue playing mistake-free football, continue dominating in defence, continue giving quality ball to Greg Inglis and Billy Slater and continue tormenting teams via the country’s best hooker, ensuring every weakness is exploited. <br><br>Basically the only thing likely to keep this side out of an eighth straight final series is serious injuries to several stars. Not even the most ardent fans of the other 15 NRL clubs should be wishing that on the premiers.<br><br><b>Expect Plenty From…</b> Sione Kite. Formerly known as ‘John’ at the Bulldogs, this giant prop should revel under the Bellamy structure and could easily become a first grade regular. <br><br>Kite plays at around 115kg and is 195cm, making him a huge proposition for opposing defenders. At just 22, he is very young in prop forward years but with his Tongan heritage ensuring pride in his performance both on and off the field you can expect to see massive improvement in his game in 2010.<br><br><b>They’re Really Going To Miss…</b> Dallas Johnson. The Queensland Origin lock forward was the glue of the Storm pack and defended the middle of the ruck better than most in the NRL. <br><br>Last season he made an average 41.5 tackles a match and still ran for 66 metres so whoever takes over at the base of the scrum will need to be ready to roll up his sleeves. <br><br>For team-mates, watching the diminutive Johnson throw his body on the line constantly was motivation in itself… ‘if the little fella can do it, why can’t I?’ It’s hard to shirk responsibility next to a man like that.<br><br><b>Time To Stand Up…</b>Their young, and old, outside backs. <br><br>While Inglis obviously breezes into one centre spot, the other has been vacated following to the departure of Will Chambers to rugby union, while Steve Turner’s move to the Bulldogs means at least one wing spot is open. Considering their other winger last season was rookie Dane Nielsen, you could argue both are open. <br><br>Nielsen will fight it out with fellow youngsters Chase Stanley, William Isa, Matthew Duffie and veteran Anthony Quinn to grab the open spots in the backline so all will need to deliver the goods. It is potentially the only ‘weak’ spot in the Storm arsenal, and those selected to play on the right side in particular will know they’ll be targeted. <br><br><b>Coach Watch…</b>Craig Bellamy can stay at the helm as long as he wants. <br><br>Having never missed a finals series since his arrival in 2003, Bellamy has overseen four grand final appearances, three minor premierships and two major titles in his seven seasons in charge. <br><br>Should he ever leave you get the feeling it will be on his terms. <br><b><br>They’re All The Better For…</b> Their club structure finally taking full shape.<br>&nbsp;<br>This season will see the Storm field their own team in the NSW Cup to complement the NRL side, Toyota Cup and SG Ball under-18s. This pathway gives local Victorian players another avenue to enhance their skills and chances of making the top grade one day, while also giving the excess squad members game time without having to fly to the NSW Central Coast or Queensland as in previous years.<br>&nbsp;<br>Rugby league in the southern capital has more than a fighting chance with the right set-up and the Storm have committed heavily to help this happen.<br><br><b>Predicted Finish…</b> Top four – at least. If the Melbourne boys stay fit and healthy they have too much class to not be there or thereabouts again. They may not dominate all year but they’ll get their chance at five deciders in a row.<br><br><b>Toyota Cup…</b> The reigning premiers in the Toyota Cup look set to be strong again with some returning players and some of a grand final SG Ball squad from last season graduating to the ranks. <br><br>Matthew Duffie is the only eligible player in the fulltime NRL top 25 who can play Toyota Cup, however the ranks are still strong.&nbsp; Rugby convert Kirisome Auva’a could be a great acquisition in the centres, while the side will boast born-and-bred Victorian Lucas Grech at hooker. <br><br>Eleven members of the squad played some under-20s last year, five who played in the grand final 17. <br>