Storm desperate to avoid burnout
This weekend’s Representative Round sure has the colour purple painted all over it: 14 Melbourne Storm players will represent their country, city or State of Origin this weekend.
Of those 14, seven will step out for their country, making the Storm the most represented club in Friday night’s Test.
Jesse Bromwich has been named in the Kiwis’ starting side along with Tohu Harris and Kevin Proctor while his brother Kenny could make his international debut after being named at 18th man.
It is yet another chaotic representative calendar for the Storm that they have weathered in previous years with a strong start. But the club heads into uncharted waters this season with just four wins from eight games so far in 2014, and halfback Cooper Cronk is keen to see how the team responds.
"Obviously we're not in a great position, but we're not too far off it," he said in camp with Australia this week.
"When we play our best football, we're a good football team. When we play below our standards, we're pretty average.
"There's a few question marks, probably something our coach and the senior players haven't faced at this time of the year before.
"So I'm really interested to see how we react as a group, individually and collectively, where we end up. While it's disappointing, I'm excited to see how we react to it all."
Ryan Hoffman will captain City Origin, Young Tonumaipea has been named in Samoa’s squad to take on Fiji while six of the club’s NYC players will take part in the Under-20s State of Origin.
It is a great testament to the club - but will it ultimately prove a hindrance?
The Kangaroos' starting line-up will once again consist of the Storm’s 'Big Three' in Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and skipper Cameron Smith.
Smith’s influence at club level is perhaps bigger than any other in the NRL. The 30-year-old touches the football an average of 111 times per game (1st in competition) - that is 59 more touches in 80 minutes than any other teammate.
Cronk has been at his creative Dally M best after battling with a shoulder injury throughout the summer.
There has been much debate around his selection in the No.7 over Manly’s Daly Cherry-Evans; however looked at statistically, Cronk does hold the edge over his younger counterpart.
Cronk has 11 try assists this season, ranked 1st in the NRL compared to Cherry-Evans’ six. Add to this 10 line break assists compared to the Sea Eagles half’s three and he has the slightly better kicking game, averaging 33 metres per kick (seven more meters than Cherry Evans).
Billy Slater has had a below-par start to the season after a knee injury during last year’s World Cup left him with virtually no pre-season.
Perhaps it is an excuse as to why the scintillating fullback has just one try to his name this year and appears well short reaching his 18 from last season.
However, Slater appears to be building. In the past fortnight he ran for a combined 452 metres, a significantly bigger output than the 123.5 metres per game he averaged in the first six rounds of the season.
You could not argue the position of all three in the Kangaroos' line-up for Friday night.
But there is no shying away from the fact that the Representative Round is yet another addition to what has been a gruelling schedule.
A tough straight-sets exit to end their 2013 season was soon followed by a trip to the UK for the month-long rugby league World Cup, a short break, then into pre-season training - and before they knew it March had arrived and another 26 weeks of rugby league awaited them.
Slater, Smith and Cronk are widely regarded as champions of the game but they are human.
Each have had their injury niggles so far this season and they will be forced to ask even more of their bodies heading into another Origin period.
We may only be through Round 8 but perhaps the heavy workload is already starting to show.
Coach Craig Bellamy usually manages the season so he that he has his big-name players primed for an assault on the finals, but the former NSW coach might need to call on their best a lot earlier this year.
"We might have to do it a different way this year," Cronk said. "We don't start the season saying, we've got ten rounds [so] we need to win eight of them to be in a good position.
"That doesn't happen. A Craig Bellamy-coached team is you go and play your best football every time you get the opportunity.
"No doubt it's a challenging road that's in front of us and I look forward to it because we haven't been in this position so let's see how we all react to it. That's the cool thing for me."
Melbourne face Manly at home in Round 9, followed by trips to South Sydney and North Queensland before hosting the Roosters.