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The Melbourne side was born out of the Super League storm. As teams crumbled and disappeared around them, they came to the fore with a side ready to challenge for the title.
The Storm needed early success to justify its place in the soon to be 14-team competition. The team not only did well, it won the competition in 1999 – their second season. Though if anyone thinks that the Melbourne team were not guaranteed a place from 2000 and beyond, they were living in a false reality.
Seasons 2001 and 2002 were disappointing, but signing Craig Bellamy for the 2003 season was a masterstroke. During his tenure we have seen a dominance over the code that rarely happens. It is akin to the Dogs and Eels of the 1980s and Brisbane Broncos of the 1990s.
One wonders if their dominance will continue now that Cooper Cronk has left and Billy Slater and Cameron Smith are a season or two away from retirement.
There were many naysayers when the Storm began. Many fans were still angry from the Super League war. Fans were mad that their team either merged, died or was expelled to make way for an upstart. However, having Melbourne in the competition adds value to the league.
The club has suffered bad days. Many enthusiasts wondered whether they would continue to exist. Firstly, it was the continuing losses the club made in its early years. Many pundits queried News Limited and wondered how long they would support a loss-making venture.
Secondly, the salary cap drama took away two titles from the 2007 and 2009 seasons. I’m curious to see who thinks that they should get these titles back. Arguments could be made that other teams may have been cheating the cap as well. Personally I am not bothered either way.
Regardless of the salary cap drama, the club persevered. In 2012 the side won the grand final. In 2016 they lost the grand final to Cronulla-Sutherland before winning the 2017 decider over the North Queensland Cowboys. The 2018 season should be interesting as they undertake it without the execution of Cooper Cronk. Is Melbourne’s dominance coming to an end?
With the club’s success it has gained a foothold in AFL-obsessed Melbourne. The Storm organisation has been smart. They have not had a ridiculous ambition to overtake the popularity of the AFL. That would be similar to climbing Mount Everest with a broken leg. However, they realised that Aussie Rules is akin to a religion in Victoria, so they decided to set up their own church.
The Storm go out of their way to welcome new fans. They have embraced what has worked so well for the AFL: memberships. In 2017 the Melbourne Storm were ranked fourth for membership numbers with 20,296 fans actively paying to support their team. I do not doubt that this number will continue to rise.
Let’s put this number into perspective. The club, which has just over 20 years of existence, is fourth in member support. They are doing very well or all other clubs are underperforming in this area. I think it is probably a combination of both.
To further prove that they have cemented a niche market in Australia’s second-largest city, they were second for home crowd averages, with 18,000-odd fans. Yes, I know they have AAMI Park, a great stadium to watch the game, but it is still impressive.
The 2017 season was not one of the best for crowds for the NRL, and I feel sorry for the teams that got lumped with the Friday night 6pm time slot. Yet these numbers do tell you something: the Melbourne Storm are here to stay. Whether they remain the superpower in the game only time will tell.
If you are a Melbourne Storm fan, appreciate the dominance that you have sustained. As a neutral, I wish the club the greatest of success regarding finances, membership numbers and home crowd averages. I just hope that the team’s on-field successes do not come at the cost of my own team.