Monday Morning Halfback: Perfect Storm
Is there a club better at recruiting and retention than the Melbourne Storm?
For years they have been lumped with 'The Big Three' tag, but this has long been a disservice for the entire club. Sure Cam Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater have been a driving force in Melbourne, but the Storm's success is built on much stronger foundations than just these three special players.
This label ignores the enormous work of Craig Bellamy and everything he has done since taking the reins way back in 2003.
It ignorantly neglects Jesse Bromwich who was has arguably been the best prop in the game over the last few seasons.
Bromwich was the Kiwis Player of the Year in a 2015 season where he appeared in all 26 of Melbourne's matches, and finished second overall in the NRL for most carries of the ball, total running metres and hit-ups.
But most of all, the tag often conceals the unsung heroes of the Melbourne Storm outfit, the players who are unwanted at other clubs and become world beaters south of the border.
This is a club who lost their star fullback in the opening round of the competition, the Australian and Queensland fullback no less and haven't missed a beat to be top of the table at the halfway mark of the season. The ability to bring through a young star like Cameron Munster is something the Storm do better than most clubs in the competition.
Munster has had plenty of opportunity to assert himself on the team with Slater spending lengthy periods on the sidelines in recent times, but the ease in which he has come into the structure and excelled has been nothing short of remarkable.
Not many clubs could afford to lose a player of Slater's ilk and hope to have a prosperous season. Not many clubs are the Melbourne Storm.
But the true genius of the Storm is their ability to make players better. At times the Storm side can appear on paper to be a varied band of misfits. They have been unwanted by other clubs but travel to Melbourne seeking only an opportunity.
It's hard to find a player who has moved to Melbourne and not become a better footballer.
Tired old props, discarded halves, outside backs who have been deemed surplus to requirements have all found refuge in the Victorian capital and thrived.
It's a credit to the whole organisation.
Five-eighth Blake Green is a perfect example of the Storm system, one of many. Prior to moving to Melbourne, Green had played 53 NRL matches across three clubs between 2007-10. He won just 15 of those matches at a lowly 28 per cent. Unwanted at the Bulldogs at the end of the 2010 season, Green moved to England and played four years in the UK Super League where he won the Harry Sunderland Trophy in the 2013 Super League Grand Final.
Since moving to Melbourne in 2015, Green has slotted straight into the Storm system and has instantly become an integral part of the Purple army, often overcalling lynchpin Cooper Cronk to great effect. He has played 38 NRL matches and won 25 of those at 65 per cent since his return to the NRL.
Cheyse Blair signed from Manly, and despite a string of injuries has slotted in and has won four from four matches. Ryan Morgan, who moved mid-year from the Eels has immediately hit the ground running in the Storm system.
Then there is the amazing case of Fijian Suliasi Vunivalu who tops the try-scoring leaderboard with 11 tries. He's managed to do that in just seven games with four doubles and a hat-trick against the Roosters on Saturday night.
Another player given an opportunity at the Storm and instantly thrived.
"His name's Suli. I can't say his last name so I call him Mr Suli,” Bellamy told NRL.com after his debut.
"He's very, very respectful. He's a really good kid, really well-mannered and very quiet as most of the Fijian boys are.
"He scored a couple of tries and he's a very strong kid so hopefully he'll play a lot more first grade and we think he will. We think he's a pretty special athlete."
It's an amazing story, a typically Melbourne story.
While a lot of this year's focus has been on defending premiers North Queensland, beaten Grand Finalists Brisbane and the emergence of the Sharks as a premiership powerhouse, the Storm have been busily and professionally disposing of every team put in front of them. They are currently outright first and have won seven games in a row.
The Storm have conceded 136 points in 13 games - including three shutouts - at an average of 10.5 points per game.
"At the end of the day it doesn't worry me what people say about us, whether it's good, bad or indifferent," Bellamy said after his side's crushing win over the Roosters.
"We know what we're about within the club.
"Sometimes we think we should be getting more praise, but sometimes we should probably be getting a bit more of a whack over the head."
This is a Storm that won't go easily into the night, something big is again building down south, and it is going to take some stopping.
The landscape of media is changing all over the world and sport is at the forefront of the revolution. Melbourne Storm's victory over the Roosters was an impressive reminder that they are a premiership force to be reckoned with. But it was Cam Smith's sideline conversion that gained all the media exposure after the game. Smith slipped and landed on his back while attempting a conversion from the sideline early in the first half, but the ball never looked like missing and sailed over the black dot. The goal and Smith's reaction has been viewed over 1.3 million times on social media. Who knows how we'll be watching the game when the next broadcast rights are negotiated.
Fan and coach killers
What is tougher: watching your team get thrashed by 40 points at home (like the Roosters and Knights), or leading by 20 points and watching your side get run down like Manly were at home to the Panthers at Brookvale Oval? While there is no easy answer, Sea Eagles fans were already counting the two competition points at half-time and dreaming of a charge towards the top eight. The second-half capitulation mirrored how their 2016 season has gone. While the thrashing hurt Roosters and Knights players and fans, the Sea Eagles' loss will sting for a long time to come.