It seems crazy to suggest that a Melbourne Storm team – who will comfortably win another minor premiership in a few weeks’ time – are in trouble.
But the signs are there. The cracks are appearing.
Of course, it’s nothing new that sides winning the minor premiership don’t always win the major prize. If we go back as far as 2010, only four sides out of the nine have gone on to take the premiership double.
The Melbourne Storm have won three minor premierships during that period, of which only one team went on to hold the Provan-Summons Trophy aloft at the end of the season.
So history suggests it’s no done deal. But it’s more than that.
The Storm appear to be losing their aura. Their main rivals, if not quite holding their measure, are implementing game plans that are testing the Storm.
A lot of talk in recent weeks – and quite rightly so – has surrounded the tense race for the last two posts in the top eight. Six clubs in the hunt for seventh and eighth on the ladder.
Whoever makes it through may fancy their chances away from home against a faltering Rabbitohs side. However, history is clear on this one. No side outside the top four has ever won the premiership. I see no reason why that will change in 2019.
But inside the top four, the fight for the premiership has become very interesting. Over the last month, Manly and Canberra have beaten the Melbourne Storm at home.
It’s not as if the Storm played poorly in either game. Completion rates were high, line breaks were close to even. However, there were two match stats that Canberra and Manly both won: offloads and passes completed.
That in itself gives us some insight as to how teams feel they can beat the Storm. You certainly need a big forward pack, as the Sea Eagles and Raiders have, to try and minimise the Storm’s go-forward.
But rather than attack through the middle, these teams are hitting the Storm on the edge, trying to move the Storm pack around and get quicker play the balls. In the Raiders game, play-the-ball speeds were exactly the same. Josh Papalii’s late try was against a tiring Melbourne pack.
The Roosters also will play on the edge against Melbourne, through the likes of Boyd Cordner, as they will be confident their back line will have enough points in them to beat the Storm when it really counts.
None of this takes away from Craig Bellamy’s achievements this year. Not many coaches could lose Cooper Cronk one year then Billy Slater the next and still win the minor premiership in a canter.
However, Bellamy’s major challenge still awaits: another NRL premiership.
Based on the last month’s evidence, this challenge may be a little too tough to achieve.