Storm well stocked to cover Proctor loss
The race to replace Kevin Proctor on the Storm's right edge is heating up with several candidates pushing hard to impress Melbourne's coaching staff ahead of the beaten grand finalists' Round 1 showdown against the Bulldogs next March.
The 27-year-old Kiwis forward played 179 matches for the Storm across nine seasons but inked a four-year deal to join the Gold Coast Titans starting in 2017.
Proctor – who has scored against every club bar the Titans and the Parramatta Eels – was a constant threat in attack on Melbourne's right edge with the bulk of his 28 tries coming off short balls from halfback Cooper Cronk.
Whoever steps in to play in the second row next year will be hard-pressed to replicate the chemistry shared by Proctor and Cronk, but in young-gun Joe Stimson, the Storm might just have found their man.
Stimson captained the Thunderbolts in the 2015 NYC season and also represented the Junior Blues that year in the under-20s State of Origin before going on to play a starring role for the Sunshine Coast Falcons in the Intrust Super Cup where he was named the Storm's feeder club player of the year last season.
Having graduated through the ranks at the Storm with flying colours, the Temora Dragons junior is a strong chance to make his NRL debut in 2017.
"Joe has had a little bit of an interrupted pre-season given he had wrist surgery, but he'll be back in full training after Christmas," Storm assistant coach Adam O'Brien told NRL.com.
"He's a guy we've earmarked for a number of years as not only a future player, but also a leader down the track. He really typifies what we're looking for in a Storm player and we're expecting big things from Joey [in the years to come].
"He had a really consistent year up there (the Sunshine Coast) and I think he got our feeder club player of the year.
"That's the thing about Joe. His best performance and his worst performance are pretty close together. He's ultra-consistent and that's what we're looking for. That's what 'Kevvy' was for us, and hopefully Joey can do the same."
Stimson's ascension to the NRL is far from a fait accompli given the Storm's depth in the forwards with experienced heads like Kenny Bromwich and Felise Kaufusi looking to push into the starting side.
Bromwich is coming off his best year for the Storm having played in all 27 matches for the minor premiers last season. The younger brother of superstar prop Jesse made six starts in 2016 and averaged roughly 82 metres and 24 tackles per game.
Another man keen to secure Proctor's now vacant role is Kaufusi, who was named 18th man for the Maroons in Game III of last year's State of Origin series.
"Kenny is a guy who provides a bit of versatility in that he can play in the ruck or on an edge," O'Brien said.
"I think Felise Kaufusi is another guy who can push really hard for that right edge back-row position.
"It's a huge spot to fill trying to replace Kevvy, but there are a number of younger guys there [who are ready to step up].
"Players like Kenny and Felise have already experienced first grade, we expect Joe to do the same, and then we've got Dean Britt who's a similar mould to Joe as well.
"We've got some exciting young kids here and we're hopeful they can do their best to fill the void that Kevvy left."
The quartet will be given every chance to stake their claim with hard-working lock forward Dale Finucane set to be sidelined for the entire pre-season with a knee injury.
"He might struggle to even play in the trials," Storm coach Craig Bellamy said.
"We've just got to see how that injury comes up and we'll go from there. He had a bit of a mishap here at training and he tore the ligament off his knee so he'll be operated on. Hopefully he'll be back for the start of the season."