Much of the Storm’s success was built around having the Big Three of Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk play most of their careers together and it’s a formula the club is hoping will again pay-off.
With Jahrome Hughes, Harry Grant and Xavier Coates signing long term extensions on Friday, the Storm have the players they plan to build a team around contracted until at least the end of the 2025 season.
Hughes and Coates are committed to staying in Melbourne until 2026, while Grant joins star fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen and co-captain Christian Welch on deals expiring in 2025.
The announcements mean that Melbourne now have the key fullback, halfback and hooker roles secured for at least another three seasons, as well as a strike outside back and forward leader.
Hughes, the Kiwis halfback and Storm’s 2021 player of the year, is likely to continue to organise the team for the remainder of his career as he turns 28 at the end of the season, while 24-year-old Grant is considered Australia’s next Test hooker.
At just 21-years-of-age, Coates is going to be the Storm’s strike outside back for at least five seasons, while prop Christian Welch will lead the forwards after his return from knee surgery next season as he is signed until 2025.
Teen prodigy Jack Howarth is yet to make his NRL debut but Melbourne officials think so highly of the former Australian Schoolboys second-rower that he is signed until 2027.
“I am really excited by what the club is building,” Grant said. “I think we have got a core group signed on for a few years and that really helped my decision knowing that those guys are there – Xavier, Jahrome, Paps and Welchy, and guys like Jack Howarth.
“If we can keep a core group together for a long period of time it only helps with success.”
The Storm have lost forwards Jesse and Kenny Bromwich, Felise Kaufusi (all Dolphins) and Brandon Smith (Roosters) to rivals clubs from next season but the fact the club has managed to retain so many stars in key positions indicates a strategy to build the team around those players.
Re-signing star five-eighth Cameron Munster before other clubs are able to approach him in November about the 2024 season is expected to be Melbourne’s next priority.
Hughes revealed that the players had spoken about wanting to stay together to help achieve further success.
“Us fellows were talking behind the scenes about what each other was doing and we wanted everyone to stay,” Hughes said. “That was a big reason why we stayed. To have these two fellows re-sign as well I think that played a big part in it as well.”
“Everything about the club, the coaching staff and the players … it is just run really well and I’ve got a lot of faith in the players coming through and the coaching staff coming through, so it was a no-brainer to re-sign here.
“It feels pretty good to get it done now, I am happy where I am and I can’t wait to be at the Melbourne Storm for a couple of years longer.”
Coates only arrived in Melbourne at the end of last season, but it has taken him less than six months to decide that the Storm were the club he wanted to pledge his long-term future to and he is looking forward to continuing to build his right edge partnership with fellow PNG international Justin Olam.
“I think me and Juzzy are forming a pretty good combination - two PNG boys,” Coates said. “I have been loving my time with Jussy so far and he has been teaching me a lot on and off the field, and also with my culture, being a PNG person.
“Everyone has made me feel so welcome so to extend my contract … I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, to be honest. I can’t wait to have a couple more years here in the purple jersey.”