In NRL.com's club-by-club series delving into the 2017 season analytics, Paul Zalunardo and Margie McDonald look at how the Melbourne Storm blazed their way to their memorable grand final triumph.
The challenge now for the Storm is doing it all over again.
It’s a tale that’s brought up annually but no team has been able to defend a premiership since the Brisbane Broncos beat St George in the 1993 grand final.
Storm coach Craig Bellamy has retained the nucleus of his premiership-winning squad but the loss of halfback Cooper Cronk to the Sydney Roosters, second-rower Tohu Harris to the New Zealand Warriors and prop Jordan McLean to the North Queensland Cowboys will be hard to replace.
“We have to go back to the drawing board and work really hard all over again,” Bellamy said.
“We’ve got a whole heap of new faces in our team so it is a different side to the one last time. We start again.”
For a team that won 20 matches, it is little surprise the Storm were very good at home – but it is their 11-1 record on the road that stands out. Limiting opponents to an average of 14 points per game (both home and away) is a great achievement.
“The one time we did get beaten (Sydney Roosters 25-24 in Adelaide in round 16) we were beaten in extra time by a field goal, so it was nearly 12-0,” Bellamy said. “We do prepare well for those ‘away’ games but it’s just a product of the team playing consistently well each week. It was very pleasing.”
The best finishing duo in the NRL turned in many a great performance. Suliasi Vunivalu led the NRL and fellow speedster Josh Addo-Carr wasn’t far behind. The same pair finished first and third for the Storm in total ball runs for 2017.
“We’re really happy with their input and what they gave us throughout the season. They were outstanding,” Bellamy said. “It’s nice to have guys on the edges like that who can regularly score tries.
“Josh’s pace is unbelievable and Suli is very good in the air. Having said that they know, like everyone else, that you don’t stop. You keep improving.”
Cameron Smith was a mile clear of the rest of the competition. His average gain of 53.1m per kick was almost 20m better than the NRL average. On the back of his work, the Storm led the league in this category.
Support play was crucial for the Storm – a team that led the NRL in line breaks. Billy Slater and Josh Addo-Carr were the stars for Melbourne in this department.
The hard work of Jordan McLean and Josh Addo-Carr resulted in the Storm having two of the top 10 in this category. According to NRL.com/stats, Addo-Carr also finished third in the NRL in line breaks.
Will Chambers and Nelson Asofa-Solomona were the Storm’s worst offenders. Melbourne conceded 34 tries in the set immediately following a penalty – the joint-highest total in the NRL.
For all their good work, Josh Addo-Carr and Suliasi Vunivalu joined a host of wingers from other clubs in being regular contributors in the error department. As a team the Storm made the fifth-fewest number of errors in the NRL.
Jordan McLean was the only Storm player to finish in the top 30 in this category. He also finished second behind Tohu Harris in post-contact metres.
Brisbane had the top three players in this category, but the Storm had four of the next six. The fact those two sides finished in the top three is no coincidence.
The Storm have Brodie Croft ready to take over the No.7 jersey vacated by Cooper Cronk. It is hard to see Croft replicating the 204 kicks Cronk completed during 2017. Cameron Smith is likely to shoulder a heavier load in this area.
But Bellamy doesn’t necessarily see it that way.
“Cameron Smith is not going to change his role. He’ll do the kicking he always did even when Cooper was there,” the coach said. “But we’ll mix it up a bit of with Cameron Munster and with Brodie as well.
“We won’t change a lot but we’ll change enough to keep the opposition guessing.”