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Craig Bellamy leaned back in his chair, no small feat in the phone box-turned-media conference room at Penrith, and raised his hands and eyebrows as one.

"I've been repeating it for a while, we're going to be missing Cameron for a while."

That was five months ago. The Storm haven't truly been troubled since a last-gasp, late March loss to the Panthers followed a last-gasp loss to Parramatta the week earlier.

Eighteen straight victories have followed and rugby league's all-time winning streak will too if first the Titans, and then the Eels fall the same way over the next 10 days.

There's no shortage of lenses through which to marvel at Melbourne's remarkable winning run.

Whether it's the mid-year injury toll, another pandemic-induced sudden pilgrimage north, or the six-again styled shake-up that has produced at times, simply breathtaking offence.

The most influential though, was laid out by Bellamy as he sat in the bowels of Penrith's grandstand five months ago.

"Craig challenged the team after that Panthers game," his long-time right-hand man, Storm football manager Frank Ponissi says.

"The big one out of the Penrith and Parramatta games was that both those games were there for us to win.

"We were tied up with Parramatta late and were leading Penrith with not long to go and ended up losing both of them.

"Craig was clear. He felt we were waiting for someone to do that, they were waiting for Smithy to control the game.

"Basically the challenge went to the whole team. Cam's not here, we need to change that.

"It was all things we'd spoken about in pre-season but I think the reality was put into practice for them in those early games.

"Ever since our leaders and key players – (Jahrome) Hughes and (Cameron) Munster - have really taken up the challenge.

"We could've and should've won those games but didn't."

Melbourne have done nothing but win since.

Quizzed for the umpteenth time on what joining the 1975 Roosters would mean if the Titans are accounted for on Thursday, Bellamy was polite but to the point.

"It'd be a nice record to equal but we think we've got bigger fish to fry at the end of the season."

Across the season to date, as has become Bellamy's calling card, individuals in the Storm system have played beyond what most anyone outside the club thought possible.

Nicho Hynes's stunning rise has far exceeded what Bellamy had expected from the 25-year-old utility. Stats show just how far the likes of Hynes, Hughes and Brandon Smith have gone beyond their own previous high-water marks in the post-Cam era.

Before a heavy concussion knocked him out of the game for two months, Ryan Papenhuyzen was tracking on a similar trajectory.

Injuries have limited Harry Grant in a similar fashion to 10 appearances this year, allowing Smith to claim the No.9 jersey as Bellamy juggles the pair with aplomb.

Grant still has more tries (four) and assists (seven) in fewer games than his breakout 2020 campaign while on loan to the Tigers, though his influence on a contest has been far more understated in Storm colours.

The game's new six-again interpretations have of course inflated attacking statistics right across the NRL.

As Hynes told recently, his ball-playing instincts and comfort at either fullback or in the halves stems from deliberate touch football inspired tactics, while Hughes's own line-breaking ability points to his previous NRL life at fullback.

Smith's own ball-playing and sniping around the ruck meanwhile has made him one of the game's most dangerous individuals within 10 metres of the try line.

It has also seen him threatened with expulsion from the front-rowers club by self-appointed patron saint Bryce Gibbs.

Melbourne's stunning 2021 output, and the rapid rise of their next generation, has prompted suggestions this side without Cameron Smith is more potent than last year's with him.

On raw numbers, they are.

But of Smith's greatest strengths, only his astonishing durability could be measured by a statistic – which was the whole point of his long-held moniker as rugby league's resident accountant.

The most fantastic element of the Storm's potentially record-breaking run is that in Bellamy's eyes at least, they are still learning how to play without Smith.

"I think if you watch last week's game [against the Raiders], especially at the start of the second half, probably the first 20 minutes of the second half, there were some real signs of not having Cameron's influence there," Bellamy said on Wednesday.

"If he'd been playing he would have pulled a few things up pretty early.

"We can't just think 'we wish Cameron was there'. Obviously we do because he was such a wonderful player. His experience and his smarts, you just can't really replace that. But that's part of our transition as a team without Cameron.

"There will always be a couple of things that he would've done that other players need to learn to do, that's all part of their education as well. It's all part of our education.

"Every now and then we'll have a team meeting and say 'Cameron would've said this here or got this back on track' but hopefully players are learning from that."

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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