What will the Storm look like in five years time?
Melbourne Storm are about to face their toughest opponent - time. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)
The Melbourne Storm are about to come up against an opponent they can’t beat. It doesn’t matter how hard they tackle, wrestle, chase or train. You won’t beat father time.
How the premiership contenders handle this change could define how they perform for the next decade.
The club’s ‘big three’ are heading into the twilight of their illustrious careers and a master coach is considering his future after 10 seasons in charge.
In the wake of the salary cap scandal that rocked the club, management had to decide who to keep and who to let go.
Only one of the ‘big four’ of Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Greg Inglis departed.
Inglis told me soon after that the plan was to be back at the club after two years.
He has since decided life at South Sydney isn’t so bad after all and has turned into one of the most destructive fullbacks the game has ever seen.
In reality, he was always going to be the odd man out. As a centre, his influence depended on the work of others.
Retaining the spine of Melbourne’s team was a masterstroke in crisis management, but now they’re up against a superior opponent in the form of a ticking clock.
No amount of number crunching can slow the process and although Smith, Slater and Cronk aren’t old by definition, they’re closer to the end than the start.
All three players will turn 30 next year and a mass farewell looms on the horizon.
Bellamy also comes off contract at the end of next season and will be the hottest property on the market.
The 52-year-old has been able to take a bunch of players that other coaches have seen as rocks, turn them into diamonds and then placed them around his three (four when Inglis was at the club) biggest stars.
It’s a formula that has worked wonders, but the stars aligned to deliver them some of the best players of this generation.
Their next phase of recruitment must be spot on and, barring a miracle, has to be different to how they’ve operated over the last decade.
The likelihood of finding the next Smith, Slater, Cronk and Inglis and huddling them under the one roof again will be slim.
Of course, every club has to deal with these challenges, but Melbourne’s circumstances are slightly different.
They’ve been blessed with game defining players while slotting in honest toilers around them. Replacing them will be near impossible. Whether they’ll have a coach capable of attracting the big names also remains to be seen.
It’s important, not only for the club but the game in general, for them to be successful in this process.
The club has only missed the finals three times since they were established in 1998. One of those, in 2010, was due to salary cap breaches.
As an expansion team they’ve been exactly what head office needed… most of the time.
Their continued success when the big farewell eventually comes will be vital in a town where they’re flying the flag for rugby league by themselves.
You can follow Luke Doherty on Twitter @Luke_Doherty and on Sky News Australia.