Melbourne Storm the Barcelona of the NRL
After covering the Melbourne Storm’s opening two matches in the NRL for The Roar, it has become evident to me that their game shares striking similarities to football giants Barcelona.
Although they participate in different codes, Melbourne and Barcelona each possess a wonderful attacking structure marshalled by three key players.
For Barcelona, the chemistry shared by Lionel Messi, Xavi, and Andres Iniesta sparks a style of attacking football that has seen the club become one of the most dominant sides in Europe over the past four years.
The Storm triumvirate of Billy Slater, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk share chemistry similar to that of their counterparts.
In their latest victory against South Sydney last Sunday, Melbourne was superb in attack, with Slater, Cronk and Smith again at the forefront of the Storm’s success.
Slater’s influence very much resembles the influence Messi possesses at Barcelona.
Messi is renowned for sparking Barcelona to life either with a dazzling run, assist, or a goal. The NRL’s best player also possesses the speed and creativity which allows him to set up and score numerous tries.
Against the Rabbitohs, Slater scored two terrific tries after earlier setting up Dane Nielson and Matthew Duffie in the first half.
Of course, like Messi, Slater’s success with the Storm comes largely down to the wonderful understanding he shares with playmaking masters Cronk and Smith.
Like Iniesta, Cronk is a master of producing the right pass at the right time for Melbourne, and it’s his passing game that usually ignites Melbourne’s wonderful second-phase play in attack.
Smith on the other hand assumes the role of Xavi, the linchpin that allows Melbourne to maintain structure in attack thanks to his supreme play around dummy-half.
Smith’s running and passing game up the middle is the main reason why the Storm is the best side at taking advantage against retreating defences.
This was evident in Melbourne’s victory against Canberra in Round 1, with Smith and Cronk combining wonderfully to send Slater over, cracking the retreating Raiders pack early in the match.
Of course, Melbourne’s similarities to Barcelona don’t just come down to three players.
The Storm and Barcelona both possess very balanced squads with each player knowing his responsibilities.
Players such as Duffie, Nielson, Gareth Widdop, Justin O’Neill, Ryan Hoffman and Sika Manu never overplay their hand, and this allows Melbourne to maintain the high intensity responsible for dominating so many teams over the past few years.
The same applies to Barcelona, with Javier Mascherano, Sergio Busquets, Eric Abidal, Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol all doing what is required to lay a platform for their famed trio of superstars to shine in attack.
But perhaps the biggest similarity that Melbourne and Barcelona share lies in their consistency.
Their ability to constantly play at a high level over the years remains unrivalled and it is this key area that allows Barcelona and Melbourne to dominate European football and the NRL respectively.
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