Melbourne Storm season preview
The Melbourne Storm were quite literally inches away from premiership glory in 2016. Perhaps one pass from beating the Cronulla Sharks in last year's nail-biting grand final, the Storm were left stunned in a demoralising 14-12 loss. The Sharks dominated the first half to lead 8-0 at the break and that Melbourne were still in contention to win – let alone lead 12-8 with 15 minutes left – is accurate reflection of their tough-gritted mentality and determination to persevere under adversity. If there's any team to find a way to return to the premiership decider and win it all, it's the characteristically-resilient Storm.
Gains and losses
Gains: Josh Addo-Carr (Wests Tigers), Brandon Smith (Cowboys), Vincent Leuluai (Roosters), Jahrome Hughes (Cowboys), Ryley Jacks (Sunshine Coast Falcons)
Losses: Marika Koroibete (rugby union), Josh Kerr (Dragons), Ryan Morgan (St Helens), Blake Green (Sea Eagles), Matt White, Francis Tualau (Bulldogs), Ben Hampton (Cowboys), Richard Kennar (Bulldogs), Kevin Proctor (Titans)
What we know
The Storm are a NRL premiership powerhouse. They clinched the 2016 minor premiership with the league's best defence, conceding a stingy 302 points (12.6 points per game). The only other team who conceded less than 400 points were the North Queensland Cowboys with 355 points. In addition to their defence, Melbourne still recorded the fourth-best attack with 563 points scored. They were also incredibly disciplined, recording the least errors and missed tackles.
Coached by Craig Bellamy and led by captain Cameron Smith, the Storm should continue their consistency into 2017. The big question is whether superstar Billy Slater will return in the fullback role. But even without the 33-year-old, Melbourne are still primed for another premiership push. Cameron Munster has developed into one of the NRL's next big stars and is a dangerous threat whether at fullback, centre or five-eighth. His halves combination with Brodie Croft at the Auckland Nines will have Storm fans salivating.
 Telstra Premiership: Cameron Smith
Tackles, Try Assists, Goals.
Croft was a revelation at the Auckland Nines tournament earlier this year where the Storm reached the semi-finals. His performance in the halves with Munster earned them both Team of the Tournament honours. The 19-year-old was an absolute menace in attack as he carved the opposition to score several tries. Croft stamped his NRL credentials and will feature in Bellamy's plans this season, particularly during the State of Origin period when Cronk is away with Queensland.
The Storm's semi-final finish at the Auckland Nines displayed the enormous young potential they have to lift their games in place of Kevin Proctor, Blake Green and Marika Koroibete. Koroibete will be missed but there's plenty of excitement in attack with Josh Addo-Carr's arrival. The try-scoring machine piled on 19 tries in 15 games for Wests Tigers in the Intrust Super Premiership, as well as scoring six tries in his nine NRL appearances last season. Proctor's departure leaves a void but Kenny Bromwich is ready to step up in his place. Young Tonumaipea is a crafty utility player who can slot in anywhere in the backline and is also set for big season. Along with Brodie Croft and Cameron Munster who can play between fullback, centre and five-eighth, the Storm are spoilt with depth, and that's not even counting the possibility of Slater in the side.
If you can afford it, Cameron Smith ($631,000) is a must in any NRL Fantasy team. He's incredibly consistent, making for a reliable captain or vice-captain each week. Kenny Bromwich ($321,000) might be the bargain of the year if his role expectedly increases following the departure of Proctor to the Gold Coast Titans. Josh Addo-Carr ($305,000) and Billy Slater ($212,000) are both potentially undervalued if they hit their strides this season.
The Storm are virtually guaranteed another top-four finish this season. Led by coach Bellamy and veterans Cooper Cronk, Smith and possibly Slater, Melbourne are the most consistent side in the NRL. Despite the departures of Koroibete, Proctor and Green, the Storm have plenty of young talent in the likes of Addo-Carr, Tonumaipea, Kenny Bromwich and Croft to step in their place. Playing at AAMI Park in Melbourne is one of the most difficult venues to travel to and will be an impenetrable fortress again in 2017. For the Storm it's all about winning the premiership, and their veteran experience will be invaluable over the likes of the Panthers and Raiders in the finals series.