Melbourne's new youth movement
Last year's grand finalists the Melbourne Storm are determined to avenge their heartbreaking finish this season but they will have to find a way to do so without several key players.
The departure of Blake Green, Marika Koroibete, Kevin Proctor and Ben Hampton will create a number of opportunities with several promising youngsters eyeing this weekend's Downer NRL Auckland Nines as their first big chance to stake their claim in the starting side in 2017.
Melbourne reached the semi-finals of last year's two-day tournament before they fell to eventual winners the Parramatta Eels. It'll be a stern test for this year's youthful side to reach the semis again and go further.
Co-captains at this weekend's tournament Kenny Bromwich and Young Tonumaipea shape as two of the Storm's rising stars expecting to make the next step. Bromwich certainly didn't expect the milestone achievement.
"It was a little bit of a shock," Bromwich told NRL.com of receiving the Nines captaincy. "I thought there were a couple of guys that were in contention but they got the late nod to go and I had put my hand up early to play."
Amidst speculation the Victorian capital may host the Nines in 2019, Melbourne has further reason to impress and grow rugby league south of the NSW border.
"I just read about that," Bromwich said. "I like it in Auckland but it would be huge in Melbourne. We just had the Aussie Open here too. A lot of people would stay back and it would be a good event for them, the city and for us."
For Tonumaipea, the honour as co-captain carries further weight as a local success story coming through the Storm's developmental program. He is the second of three Victorian players to play for the club.
"Especially coming from Melbourne, it's a massive (honour) for me," Tonumaipea said. "I've grown up watching this team and supporting this team. To actually lead out the squad this weekend, it's a massive opportunity."
With superstar Billy Slater returning from injury this season, Cameron Munster will help fill the void in the halves left by Blake Green's exit and this weekend's tournament will provide ample opportunity to showcase his ball-playing skills again.
"Last year Cam played really well until he was injured and the year before he was a bit quieter but with each year he's been growing so it'll be good to see what he's got this year," Bromwich said.
"There's a big opportunity for him there with getting his hands on the ball more. Cam's got a chance to show everyone what he's got, especially the coaches."
New addition and speed machine Josh Addo-Carr is also eager to cement his place in the side, as well as 19-year-old Curtis Scott who made his NRL debut for Melbourne last year.
"I like Josh Ado-Carr – he's really quick," Bromwich said. "Curtis Scott had a good off-season and he's looking really good.
"Guys like Vinny (Vincent Leuluai) who have come to the club have had a big season too so I'm looking forward to seeing what they've got."