Storm's 2014 Season Review

For the second straight season the Melbourne Storm ended the year without a finals win. The curtain fell on their season after a 28-4 elimination final thumping at the hands of Canterbury, a performance coach Craig Bellamy described as embarrassing.

The Storm’s 2014 campaign was one characterised by inconsistency, with an equal number of highs and lows as fans of the purple were taken on an emotional rollercoaster. They no longer were allowed the expectation of victory they had become so accustomed to for almost a decade.

The club finished outside the top four for the first time since 2005 (other than when they had their competition points stripped in 2010). A 4-4 record after eight rounds was the club’s worst start to a season since 2004.

Arguably Melbourne’s most important win of the season came off the field, with captain Cameron Smith signing a lucrative four-year contract extension just one week into the season.

It was a campaign that kicked off with consecutive one-point wins, courtesy of drop goals from Smith and Cooper Cronk. Close finishes become customary for Melbourne in the first half of the year, with their first five wins coming at a combined 17 points.

The Origin period is always a difficult one for the Victorian side but none has been more tumultuous than the 2014 edition. Injuries to Cooper Cronk (broken arm) and Billy Slater (shoulder) saw the Storm lose four of six games during that stretch as they were left clinging to 8th spot on the NRL ladder.

However they managed to steady the ship by winning six of their last eight home-and-away games for a sixth-place finish through Round 26. 

Where They Excelled: During the home-and-away season no team respected the football more than the Storm. They committed the fewest errors and as a result ranked No.1 for incomplete sets with an overall completion rate of 78 per cent. The irony is that those two areas were where the Storm let themselves down in their elimination final loss to Canterbury (14 incomplete sets, 14 errors).
 
Melbourne also made sure this season that when they tackled the opposition, they stayed tackled. The Storm made the most tackles in the NRL yet committed the 4th fewest missed tackles.

Where They Struggled: The words ‘defence’ and ‘improve’ went hand in hand for Melbourne this season. It was once an area of strength for this side, as it ranked in the top three of the competition for points against for the past nine consecutive seasons. However this season it was an area of glaring weakness as the Storm conceded 460 points, their highest tally for a home-and-away season since 2005. By the back end of the season they managed to rediscover the defence-first mindset that had alluded them for much of the year, as they conceded an average of 10 fewer points per game on their way to winning six of their last eight games. If only it didn’t take 18 weeks for Melbourne to make that improvement, the fans wouldn't have been left to ponder what might have been.

Missing In Action: The Storm compiled a significant injury list during the middle part of the year but no name was as significant as Cooper Cronk. The reigning Dally M medallist was sidelined for five games through Origin with a broken arm, as his side lost three of those. Despite missing a total of six games, Cronk still managed to finish the home-and-away season ranked equal 2nd in the competition for try assists and fifth for kick metres. A fully fit Cronk may well have granted Melbourne another win or two and a possible top four finish as a result. 

The club was also without Matt Duffie for the entire season after he re-injured the same ACL from the previous year. With Duffie off contract at season’s end the career of the 24-year-old must hang in the balance.

Turning Point: It is not often that a loss is mentioned as a positive turning point for a side but that was precisely the case when Melbourne suffered a 4-6 defeat to Canterbury in Round 18. For 17 weeks the Storm bemoaned their lack of defence, a key reason they continually pointed to for their modest 8-7 record at the time. However that game against the Bulldogs marked the first time all year the Storm had managed to keep a side to a single-digit score. It began a trend that would see them repeat the feat in three of their ensuing five games. 

Best Games: Five wins by four points of less this season would leave you spoilt for choice if you prefer a nail-biting finale. Monday night football in Round 14 against the Gold Coast will be a game Storm fans will look back on fondly. Without the entire Big Three away on Origin duty, along with Will Chambers and Ryan Hoffman, Melbourne still came out victorious 24-20. In what was a tightly contested finals race all season, that was the win that proved crucial to Melbourne reaching yet another September campaign. Road wins over top-four opposition South Sydney and Penrith were notable mentions, as were last-minute 'robberies' against the Dragons and Sea Eagles. A come-from-behind win over Manly at Brookvale Oval to start the season after trailing by as much as 20 points helped to set the trend for what would be a drama-filled 2014.

Worst Games: Melbourne’s worst all-round performance was sadly left for their most important game of the season. The Storm found themselves 24-nil down by halftime in the elimination final loss to the Bulldogs.
An equal nominee for worst loss of the season came in Round 22 against Newcastle. Melbourne gave up two tries in the final two minutes, before a Kurt Gidley conversion with the last kick of the game handed the Victorian side their ninth loss. Five defeats to sides that eventually finished outside the eight was something that will leave Storm fans scratching their heads.

Hold Your Head High: Besides the Big Three’s sustained brilliance, Jesse Bromwich was the stand-out performer for Melbourne as he took his place among the competition’s elite forwards. The Kiwi international ended the season ranked sixth overall for run metres with 145.4 a game, an average of 23 more metres per game than in 2013. With Ryan Hoffman and leading try-scorer Sisa Waqa no longer at the club, Melbourne showed they have youngsters waiting to step into the fire. 

Winger Young Tonumaipea player the first 14 games of the season before being replaced by mid-season recruit Marika Koroibete. The 22-year-old had the highlights, including a match-winning try over the Dragons, to make you think the Storm could have yet another dazzling winger in their arsenal.

Tohu Harris was another player who continued his rapid development, playing every game this season. Despite coming off the bench for most of his 25 appearances, the 22-year-old could be the heir-apparent to Hoffman’s No.12 jersey after filling in for the veteran in a match-winning, Round 16 performance against the Titans.

Conclusion: Melbourne may have seen their 2014 season come to an abrupt halt but the Big Three still have at least a couple of years of match-winning football ahead of them. Kevin Proctor and Jesse Bromwich were also key re-signings during the season, meaning much of the core of this team will still be together come next season. Youngsters such as Harris, Mahe Fonua, Jordan McLean and Ben Hampton will be better with another season of experience at the highest level under their belts and with Craig Bellamy still at the helm you can rest assured the Storm will head into 2015 fully expecting to be contenders.

SEASON STATISTICS
Wins: 14 wins
Losses: 11 losses (1 Final)
Position: (after 26 rounds) 6th 
Position: (after Week 1 Finals) 7th 
Home Record: 8-5 (1 home Finals loss)
Away Record: 6-6
Longest Winning Streak: 3 (Rounds 1-3, Rounds 19-21)
Longest Losing Streak: 2 (Rounds 4-5, 7-8, 12-13 & 16-18)
Players Used: 27
Tries Scored (after 26 rounds): 96
Tries Conceded (after 26 rounds): 85