When I was a little kid I used to always like to crowd around what my father and older brother were doing to try be part of the crew.
My mother would always tell me that too many cooks spoil the broth. It never resonated with me when I was a child, but given the current issue with the Melbourne Storm, I have some new context to apply it to.
Melbourne Storm are currently first on the ladder and coming off a shock loss to Parramatta, who essentially dominated the game and threw back everything the Storm sent their way. With one week left of the regular season, the calls for the Storm, who have potentially ‘peaked too early’ or perhaps ‘look tired’, have all come out of the woodwork.
To refer back to the old saying my mum would use with me, the issue is there are just too many key players in key positions causing issues.
To think that having a plethora of calibre spine players as a possible issue seems beyond crazy, but hear me out.
The spine is made up of the hooker, the halfback, the five-eighth and the fullback. Currently the Storm are fielding two of the competition’s best players in two of those positions, those being hooker and fullback.
There really is a huge problem with this. At hooker you have two completely different players. One, Brandon Smith, is very team orientated and loves the dirty work. He is a tough, gritty and strong-to-the-ground-type hooker. He seems to know his role and nails it every week, especially in 2021.
Then you have Harry Grant, a very quick dummy half who loves to get out off a quick play-the-ball and tends to run first and pass second. Grant also tends to make the play that works best for him first rather than the team.
Throughout the season Craig Bellamy has gone with Smith at the start to do the gritty, tough early work and then Grant off the bench to run tired legs off their feet. This is the answer for the hooker role and must stay that way. Smith is not the same size he was last year when he was a utility No. 14 in the forwards, and he’s got beaten around when playing a running forward this year. This is the answer for the hooker role.
There is only one man per position for halfback and five-eighth, and they are tried and proven. Jahrome Hughes should never not wear the No. 7, and Cam Munster is the best player in the competition on his day. He can hold that No. 6 jersey for as long as he breathes.
The last issue is the fullback spot. Through the early part of the competition Ryan Papenhuyzen, a megastar, a proven top-three fullback in the competition, was the fullback. No arguments there. But in Round 10 he copped a huge knock that had him struggle with concussion issues and led to him missing more than ten weeks of footy.
Backup Nicho Hynes took over the custodial role and absolutely lit it on fire. His natural ball-playing style just gelled so well with the other spine members, and the Storm were flying. It even earnt Hynes a huge deal for Cronulla from 2022.
In the last few weeks, Bellamy has tried to introduce Papenhuyzen back into the fold off the bench, and although he seems okay, something is still off. He runs back with half the intent he used to, and to me that suggests he’s still unsettled by his past concussion issue.
When Hynes started without the Papenhuyzen effect he was playing carefree and open footy, which was working 100 per cent, but since Papenhuyzen has returned and has been breathing down on his neck, Hynes has shelled himself from the style of footy that made him a household name, which is a huge shame. Hynes has the X factor, but since Papenhuyzen’s return he really has been playing a style of footy that is not working for him.
So what’s the issue with having two great fullbacks? It’s a matter of you start and why. One is a supreme ball player and plays what’s in front of him. The other is a workhorse and great support player who loves the gritty work and constant runs.
But my gut feeling is to start with Hynes moving forward and have Papenhuyzen either play off the bench with Grant or potentially sit for the season to regenerate his engine and get his edge back for 2022.
Rest Papenhuyzen? Are you mad? Maybe, but he is clearly not back to his best, and him being there is clearly affecting Hynes’s game, and in all his best qualities he seems to be subdued since returned from his concussion issues. I think Papenhuyzen needs the off-season and needs to find his edge again in preparation for 2022.
So where does that leave us? With Brandon Smith as hooker and Nicho Hynes at fullback. On the bench would be Harry Grant and Ryan Papenhuyzen – or if Papenhuyzen were to be rested, Grant and three rotating forwards.
Given all their forward troops are due back, if Papenhuyzen were rested, my bench would comprise Grant, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Tui Kamikamica and Chris Lewis, who offers back coverage as well. If Papenhuyzen were to get the bench spot, I would hold Asofa-Solomona and pick between either Tui or Lewis depending on the opponent.
This is how I would deal with the Storm’s current issue of having too many players in key positions. These are big calls, and some might backfire on me, but this is how I would stand with it all.
What would you do, Roarers?