The Melbourne Storm have claims to be most successful rugby league team of the last two decades.
Since their entry into the League in 1998, their record is imposing – two premierships, two further premierships stripped due to salary cap penalties, three grand final losses and 16 finals appearances.
The presence and continued excellence of the ‘big three’ in Cameron Smith, Copper Cronk and Billy Slater has ensured a period of sustained success that is unrivalled over the last 14 years. But the big three are now all aged 33 and one wonders whether there will be a drop off in 2017?
Under the guise of Craig Bellamy, they have been the epitome of the long held view that it is all about three positions: hooker, halfback and fullback.
The rest of the squad has been built and re-built to support this core group of three.
Excellent recruitment and management has brought and then kept the three champions together in the same team. Their presence in the Melbourne market away from NRL HQ in NSW has meant they and the Storm do not receive the plaudits that they deserve.
As we look forward to the 2017 season, can the ‘big three’ maintain their standards of excellence and can the rest of the team do enough to support them?
It would take a brave observer to bet against Bellamy and the big three. Smith and Cronk have proven to be two of the most consistent and disciplined performers of all time and are unlikely to drop off.
Question marks remain over whether Billy Slater can recapture his best form after a season lost to injury. If he can then I see no reason the Storm cannot make the top four
The supporting cast have lost several important players in the off season. Kevin Proctor (Gold Coast) and Blake Green (Manly) have both signed for opposing clubs and the devastating Marika Koroibete has joined rugby union.
Kenny Bromwich can be expected to fill the big void left by Proctor. Having great finishers out wide is a huge asset in the league and hopefully Josh Addo-Carr can prove every bit as damaging as his predecessor.
Jesse Bromwich leads a no-nonsense and unheralded forward pack that needs to grind out the metres to give its star play-makers field position. A quality five-eighth is useful but not essential to the Storm’s success.
With Cameron Smith’s left-foot kicking ability from dummy half and Cronk’s prodigious boot, the emphasis on the 5/8 will be as a ball runner.
The Storm game-plan is a proven one – they are experts at slowing the play-the ball, their defence is extremely well drilled with good line speed and a swarming cover defence and once in the opposition 20 they are lethal with their set plays.
If they maintain this game style and the support cast do their job, the Storm’s ageing big three might just have another title tilt left in them.