Brandon Smith is one of the game’s true characters. A court jester with a level of honesty and a self-effacing wit that is both hilarious and at times cringeworthy.
Despite the mysterious disappearance of Cameron Smith in to full-time media tormenting, there is nothing to indicate Melbourne won’t shock us by doing the same thing they’ve done every year for the last two decades.
So if you’re like me, a cynical, long-term anticipator who has been dreaming of a disastrous outcome for this champion side, I’m sorry – you won’t be seeing them get that shameful eighth place finish this year.
Despite losing the greatest player in the history of the sport, nothing really has changed at the club.
There’s the same coach, the same psychological grip, and the same write-off narrative. Incredibly, even the jerseys are the same.
That’s because recent turnover has proven they could be stripped back to the 1998 list on a 1988 budget and still pinch a preliminary final berth, which is pretty amazing when you consider inflation and Aaron Moule being in his mid-40s.
So before we herald the dawning of a sweet new post-Smith era of decline, here is your annual reminder: the Storm can take anything this game throws at them. It’s thanks to their resilience, and the champagne goggles.
This start-up club from Victoria leads the way in rugby league, and frankly, is incontrovertibly better than most of us in the game, bar Wayne Bennett and Rabs.
Even without family or a home ground last year, Melbourne predictably conformed to the Peter V’Landys rule changes better than anyone, so we can’t even rule out the possibility they’ll win all three grades this year, probably within the same afternoon.
It’s possible because they don’t get overawed by their own radiant reflection after winning nothing except 17 straight games, they don’t sign coaches to six year deals, and they don’t get involved with Israel Folau unless it’s the pre-hype, pre-intolerant version.
At the heart of the operation is Craig Bellamy, who is peerlessly honest in his work ethic and standards, but regrettably, not his periodic claims of retiring.
And this is the reason the Victorian powerhouse will remain supreme – because when it comes to the Storm coach, the more things change, the more he stays insane.
His methods work, because a standard mercilessly instilled in a Billy Slater is one as mercilessly instilled in an Anthony Quinn, or in a bloke who drinks hard and calls himself ‘Cheese.’
However, there is no doubt Bellamy will face his greatest challenge in the role after Smith’s departure.
The supercoach has a litany of issues to tackle, like ensuring Cameron Munster fits in to his system by not being too brilliant, and back-filling the hooker position with a surplus of outrageously good replacements.
This will involve adjusting Harry Grant to NRL standard by diminishing him from dominating interstate footy, and luring Brandon Smith away from suitors and Cavill Avenue.
Besides Tino Fa’asuamaleaui departing for the Gold Coast and the early loss of Dale Finucane and Grant to injury, even their indefatigable forward pack remains largely the same. But that doesn’t matter, because we don’t rate them anyway.
While the backline is sans Suliasu Vunivalu, there’s still Jahrome Hughes, Ryan Papenhuyzen and Justin Olam, the latter who produced a customary breakout year on cheap money, meaning he’s probably 1-2 years away from an obligatory departure to the Tigers for huge money/retirement.
Add the fact they are back at home, and Cameron Smith is not officially retired from footy or being a sneaky bugger, and the consumer warning is stronger than ever.
And with Cooper Cronk re-entering the fold from the Roosters, there’s no better warning they’re still up to their old tricks. Because there’s nothing more Melbourne than a former player discreetly receiving two wages.