Storm 2016 season review
A second grand final in five years was the reward for Melbourne's fantastic work all season, but they were unable to overturn an eight-point half-time deficit in the decider as Cronulla won their first ever premiership.
Melbourne spent the entire season inside the top eight and were always hovering around the top four as an early seven-game winning streak put the Storm into a strong ladder position at the half way mark of the season.
Craig Bellamy's men continued with their brilliant defence and stepped up their attack in the back half of the season to finish inside the top two, and a win over the Sharks in the final round gave Melbourne their second ever minor premiership.
A hard, tough qualifying final win over the Cowboys afforded the Storm a week off heading into the preliminary final, and after beating the Raiders in the penultimate week of the season Melbourne were off to the big dance once again.
A sluggish first 40 in the grand final meant the Storm had to come from behind at half-time, and despite taking the lead through a Will Chambers try with 15 minutes to go, Andrew Fifita broke purple hearts in the final 10 minutes with the game-winning try for the Sharks.
Where they excelled: Time and time again throughout the season Melbourne were bailed out of tough periods during games by their defence and their sheer ability to withstand constant pressure. The Storm gave up just 12.5 points a game, the lowest of any side in the competition by a considerable amount. What made the Storm even more dangerous was their capacity to turn defence into attack, as they also scored the fourth most points per game in the league. Melbourne didn't concede 20 points in a single game until Round 15 and did so only four times through the season, as their defence was the hallmark of their 2016 campaign.
Where they struggled: There weren't many vulnerable areas to the Storm's game in 2016, but for a side that finished with a home record of 10-2, their opening minutes in those matches left a lot to be desired. Melbourne conceded the opening try in eight of their 12 home games in the regular season and lost both of their games after giving away the opening four-pointers to the Bulldogs in Round 6 and Broncos in Round 25. If it weren't for Melbourne's fantastic ability to tighten up their defence following a breach of their line, AAMI Park could well have been a happy hunting ground for visiting teams.
Missing in action: For the second year running, Billy Slater missed most of the season with a shoulder injury. The fullback made his return from injury in Round 1 against the Dragons but only managed to play those 80 minutes before undergoing surgery to repair his left shoulder, the same one that kept him out of the second half of the 2015 season. Melbourne had countless players endure short stints on the sidelines, although Will Chambers and Nelson Asofa-Solomona were two of the unluckier ones. Chambers missed three months during the season with a foot injury, while the exciting Asofa-Solomona missed six weeks before coming back late in the season, only to have his year ended following an elbow injury after the Storm's qualifying final win over North Queensland.
Turning point: Melbourne didn't suffer back-to-back losses in 2016, but two defeats in three weeks late in the regular season had some doubting their premiership credentials. They were thoroughly outplayed in a 14-point loss to Canberra in Round 23, and two weeks later the Broncos came to town and beat Melbourne 26-16 on their home ground. That made the final round clash against the Sharks a crucial one and Melbourne answered the call, putting in one of their most complete performances of the regular season to claim the minor premiership. The Storm bullied their way into the grand final after wins over the Cowboys and Raiders but couldn't overcome the Sharks at the final hurdle.
Hold your head high: There are certainly a lot of players who fit this bill, but Suliasi Vunivalu deserves to be mentioned on his own. The Fijian winger debuted in Round 7 against Wests Tigers and scored twice, before going on to record doubles in his next two games and becoming the first player in NRL history to score three doubles in their first three games. Vunivalu finished the regular season with 22 tries and took home the top try scorer award. Cameron Munster excelled once again at fullback in the absence of Slater, Cameron Smith and 2016 Dally M Medallist Cooper Cronk were at their brilliant best, while Dale Finucane, Jesse Bromwich, Tohu Harris and Kenny Bromwich played in every game in 2016 and each played their role and then some for Melbourne.
2017 Crystal Ball: With Smith, Cronk and hopefully a fit Slater leading the charge for the Storm in 2017, it's hard to see this team dropping off by much, if at all. The loss of Marika Koroibete is softened by the addition of Josh Addo-Carr as well as the emergence of Vunivalu and Cheyse Blair, and Melbourne's young brigade all have an extra year of experience under their belts. It doesn't look like Melbourne's big three are slowing down as a collective so they should be good enough to push the Storm into at least another top four finish.
Conclusion: There's no doubt the Storm's season didn't end the way they wanted it to, but to come back from a preliminary final loss in 2015 and make the 2016 grand final could be viewed as a successful campaign. Melbourne probably won't see it that way given the nature of their loss in the decider, but for a team that's continually been told next season will be the start of their downfall, the Storm have to be quite impressed with their sustained finals success under one of the best coaches the game has seen since the turn of the century.
Position: 1st (lost in Grand Final)
Home Record: 10-2
Away Record: 9-3
Longest Winning Streak: 7 (Rounds 7-14)
Longest Losing Streak: 1 (Round 4; Round 6; Round 15; Round 23; Round 25)
Players Used: 27
Tries Scored: 97
Tries Conceded: 51