Storm 2017 season review
Melbourne broke their five-year premiership drought in style with a 34-6 grand final drubbing of the North Queensland Cowboys, confirming what we all knew: no one could stop the Storm in 2017.
The champion trio of Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith, and Billy Slater guided the team all year then stepped up their performances in the decider at ANZ Stadium. Speaking to coach Craig Bellamy late in the regular season, you sensed he and his team were like caged lions, just waiting for finals football to start. When it did, they mauled their opponents like a hungry beast.
The Storm shrugged off a sluggish start to defeat the Eels by two in Week One of the finals; surgically dismantled the Brisbane Broncos to win by 30 in the preliminary final; and their grand final performance, a 32-6 win, was a Melbourne Storm master-class.
Where they excelled: The Storm shone on and off the park. They enjoyed one of their most successful seasons in attack, defence and in their results, only losing four games all year. To score double the amount of tries conceded is cause for celebration, too.
The State of Origin period is usually a problem for Melbourne, but this year they used it to their advantage, testing their younger players who thrived in the cauldron of first-grade.
The club also locked in many of their rising stars for years to come. Brodie Croft, Brandon Smith, Jahrome Hughes, Suliasi Vunivalu and Nelson Asofa-Solomona all extended their contracts, and the Storm also secured Jessie and Kenny Bromwich, Dale Finucane, Felise Kaufusi, Joe Stimson and Christian Welch.
CEO Dave Donaghy also revealed memberships increased to over 21,000 (up from 17,500 last year) and the club enjoyed an average home crowd of 18,000 in 2017.
Where they struggled: For a team that was number one on the ladder from Round 8 and never relinquished it, it's hard to find weaknesses. Their grand final rematch loss to Cronulla at home in Round 6 hurt. The Storm occasionally let errors creep into their game - against the Eels in the qualifying final - and sometimes went away from their game plan. Who am I kidding? Not much went wrong for the Storm this season. Apart from Curtis Scott's attempt at a moustache. That struggled.
Missing in action: Outside back Cheyse Blair suffered a season-ending ACL injury, while Jesse Bromwich and Tohu Harris also missed chunks of the year. The latter was able to return crucially for the finals series.
Turning point: Melbourne's powerful Round 17 defeat of the Brisbane Broncos fired a real warning shot to the rest of the Telstra Premiership. Not only did the Storm bury the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium by 42-12, but they also displayed a rare ruthless finishing quality that they then showcased in the finals series.
Hold your head high: Captain Cameron Smith played superbly to win his second Dally M Medal. Fullback Billy Slater returned from a long injury layoff to claim the Clive Churchill Medal and Dally M Fullback of the Year. Promising second-rower Felise Kaufusi shone in attack on the Storm's right edge. Suliasi Vunivalu and Josh Addo-Carr set try-scoring records on the wings, both finishing with 23 for the year. The team collectively ironed out their mistakes and got better as each round went by.
2018 crystal ball: Melbourne will shift into transition mode next year as they plan for life after Cronk, Jordan McLean, Tohu Harris and Slade Griffin. Brodie Croft and Riley Jacks will take time to settle into regular NRL action, but Slater and Smith will continue their mentorship. Bellamy has proven his ability to improve young talent, so it will be interesting to see how these inexperienced players improve. There's enough at his disposal to achieve another top-four finish in 2018.
Home Record: 11/2
Away Record: 12/2
Longest Winning Streak: 10 (Round 20 to Grand Final)
Longest Losing Streak: One game
Players Used: 25
Tries Scored: 125
Tries Conceded: 61