Smart Signings: The Storm have invested everything in the spine - but are the days of 'next man up' over?
The spine is unimpeachable, but the Storm are far from the finished article - with one key deficiency.
Week 2 of the NRL finals has thrown up utterly contrasting matches.
One will be played between teams that the average NRL fan would enjoy seeing defeated and sent off to a depressed mad Monday celebration and the other, between two squads that have entertained all year and put smiles on the faces of many a neutral.
Since the rebranding of the competition to the National Rugby League in 1998, there have been 25 grand finals. Either the Sydney Roosters or Melbourne Storm have featured in 17 of those matches and it is somewhat curious they have only opposed each other in the decider on one occasion in 2018.
The consistency of performance displayed by both the Roosters and Melbourne, even considering the dodgy business that went on down south and eventually saw the club stripped of premierships and minor premierships, has been impressive and creditable.
In Melbourne, inaugural coach Chris Anderson and then Craig Bellamy have had the club in contention almost every single year of its existence.
Roosters fans have seen many a coach come and go during that period, with Trent Robinson’s current 11-year reign at the helm setting a competition standard that only the Storm can challenge.
Most impressive is the fact that Melbourne have missed the semi-final action in just three of those seasons and the Roosters on only seven occasions.
Year on year, time after time, the quality remains and as a supporter of a team stuck in the doldrums with few signs of a potential emergence, I am as envious as can be.
Personally, I’d prefer to have had the two clubs matched up with others, in the hope that both would be sent packing in the second week of the finals.
However, with one now destined to triumph and advance to a preliminary final, and creep within 80 minutes of yet another grand final, the historical representation of the Storm/Roosters at the pointy end of the season looks set to continue.
Saturday’s contest is in stark contrast.
The New Zealand Warriors finally appear to have found their man in the form of coach Andrew Webster. Frankly, it is difficult to remember a period when things looked so good in Auckland in a rugby league sense. Perhaps only the period where Daniel Anderson sat in the coach’s chair in the early 2000’s rivals what Webster has built in 2023.
It is just the second time in 12 seasons that the Warriors have advanced to the finals. In essence, defensive issues and an ability to remain in a constant state of inconsistency over the last decade have plagued the team.
Whilst capable of beating most teams on their day, there never really seemed to be any likelihood that the Warriors would do so on a big stage or when it really mattered.
To the real contenders at the top of the ladder, New Zealand have been little more than a harmless mob, capable of a stunning upset when the favourites fail to turn up for the contest.
Newcastle will travel to Auckland on Saturday night, hoping to physically match the home side and continue what has become an entertaining and emotional run across the final third of the season.
Whilst Adam O’Brien has guided his squad into the finals in recent years, the Knights never really looked the quality of those around them. The appearances in 2020 and 2021 during the post-season were followed by a very disappointing 14th in 2022 and brought suggestions that O’Brien’s days were numbered in the top job.
Then, the remarkable. Ten wins on the trot since a 20-12 loss to the Panthers in June has Newcastle roaring at the right time of the season, riding a wave of emotional support from the Hunter and entertaining more than any other team.
I would like to have seen both the Warriors and Knights take one more step in their 2023 journeys; dangerous as they are and for the provision of some added interest outside of the usual suspects in the form of the Panthers, Roosters and Storm.
Sadly, one of their journeys will end this weekend, with the winner of the contest certain to become the people’s favourite heading into the final fortnight of the season.
The Broncos have also been a great story in 2023, yet with a long history of success and the resources to dominate when the right pieces of the puzzle are assembled, I guess it is no surprise.
However, the Warriors and Knights have genuinely excited, when there appeared to be little evidence in the pre-season that either would be still punching in the latter rounds.
It is a interesting duo of matches. One where many would like to see both team’s lose and another with the potential to create a much needed new presence on grand final day