The Melbourne Storm are a club guaranteed to evoke strong feelings from most rugby league fans. There’s generally no grey areas with the Storm – you either love them or you hate them. They are nobody’s second team.
That said, most clubs envy the Storm’s success, their continued presence in the finals each year and their ability to effortlessly comply with the salary cap, at least since the bad old days. The Storm have the best coach in Craig Bellamy, the most influential player in Cameron Smith and an ability to seemingly produce top-level players from nowhere year after year.
The key to the Storm’s success is this ability to produce quality players internally rather than have to compete in the open market. This ability goes back to the days of the emergence of Cameron Smith, Greg Inglis, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater. I can’t remember when or even if the Storm have signed a genuine marquee player for big dollars. No Ben Hunt, Andrew Fifita or Daly Cherry-Evans gold-plated signings here. Their modus operandi is to develop players from an early age and get them playing the Storm way. If they don’t either develop or fit in, they are quietly moved on.
This recruitment style enables them to manage the constraints of the salary cap, as only their homegrown marquee players like Cameron Smith, Cameron Munster and Jesse Bromwich command the big-dollar contracts. There is no Anthony Milford, Russell Packer or Josh Dugan salary cap pain at the Storm.
As their players develop and outgrow their market value at the Storm some move on to other clubs. In recent years players like Kevin Proctor, Gareth Widdop, Tohu Harris and Jordan McLean left for greener pastures and bigger pay packets. Of their current squad Tino Fa’asuamaleaui will be joining the Titans next year, Suliasi Vunivalu may be heading to rugby union and Josh Addo-Carr is apparently looking for a bigger payday elsewhere.
Rest assured, the Storm will already have identified their replacements.
A look through the 17 players who ran out in Round 18 reveals that all but four made their NRL debuts with the Storm. Of the four ‘imports’, Jerome Hughes had played two first grade games elsewhere, Branko Lee 53 games, Josh Addo-Car ten games and Albert Vete 41 games. Each of these players could only best be described as a journeyman when they arrived at the Storm. Their signings went virtually unheralded. Now Addo-Carr is one of the game’s leading wingers and an Australian representative, while Hughes represents New Zealand and is doing a great job of leading the team around each week.
Last year the Storm debuted Ryan Papenhuyzen and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, and this year sees the emergence of players like Isaac Lumelume, Harry Grant, Darryn Schonig and Nicho Hynes. The quality of these homegrown debutants is emphasised by the fact Ryan Papenhuyzen is destined to play Origin for New South Wales sooner rather than later, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui has already represented both Samoa and the Prime Minister’s 13 and Harry Grant has been hailed as the ‘new Cameron Smith’ after just 14 first-grade games and wouldn’t look out of place in a Maroons jumper.
But the Storm’s successful recruitment doesn’t stop with their homegrown players, as they have long had the ability to identify either seemingly average players or players near the end of their careers and turn them into champion club players and even Origin and Test stars. In recent times these conversions include Josh Addo-Carr, Jerome Hughes, Dale Finucane, Cheyse Blair, Jason Ryles and Brian Norrie. Once they come to the Storm they play to the Storm standard.
Of course there are other clubs who have recently produced a host of homegrown debutants, particularly the Broncos and the Panthers. And then there are a number of successful clubs who rely more on imported talent – for example, the Roosters and the Raiders – but overall nobody does recruitment like the Storm.