TK's take on the Storm:
Roster - The defending champs again boast one of the most formidable rosters in the NRL. Quality across the park which is headlined by the big names such as Munster, Papenhuyzen, Bromwich brothers, Kaufusi and Hughes.
Spine - Even with Cameron Smith the Storm have a great looking spine. After a slowish start to the season, Ryan Papenhuyzen turned it on in the finals. Cameron Munster despite a few injuries was a point of difference while the most improved player in the NRL must go to Jahrome Hughes who went from a NRL caliber fullback to an elite level halfback in a short period of time. Harry Grant returns from his loan to the Tigers but where does that leave Brandon Smith with Cheese also holding ambition to play hooker in the NRL.
Coach - No doubt Craig Bellamy will go down as one of the greatest ever coaches in the game. To think he has only coached one club as a head coach from 2003 to the present with a 69.3% win percentage and built one of the greatest dynasties of the modern era. To put things in perspective Wayne Bennetts win percentage is 61.9, Phil Gould 59.3%, Trent Robinson 64.7% and Bob Fulton 64.4%
Leadership and Composure - The biggest question mark is how they will fill in the shoes of the GOAT Cameron Smith. They have two of the best hookers at their disposal in Harry Grant and Brandon Smith. However it’s more than Cameron’s playing ability that will need to be replaced. Leadership and composure are two of Smith’s best traits. When the storm trails by two to three tries against the strong teams we will get an idea of how much they miss Cameron.
Motivation - After such a draining premiership run which was backed into their stars playing an Origin season, the other question mark is if they have the same drive and motivation of 2020. The team proved they could move out of Melbourne and live on the Sunshine Coast for a season but there is so much uncertainty with covid, you would think they would be returning back to Melbourne for the season but anything can happen. In Craig Bellamy’s final season at the club, how the playing group reacts to this will have a big impact on their standing. They once again will become the hunted team in the NRL.
Star players coming off contract - The Storm do have 10 of the top 30 players coming off contract with many requiring significant upgrades given their performances in 2020. This is led by Jahrome Hughes who has become an elite halfback and is tracking significant interest from rivals club. His rumoured asking price may become pricey for the Storm. The other is Brenko Lee who went from the scrap yard at the end of 2019 to become a premiership winner and origin player in the space of a season. Dale Finucane and Nicho Hynes are others of significance that are also off contract.
Starting wing spot - The departure of flying Fijian Suliasi Vunivalu opens a starting wing spot and the Storm have recruited well in former Bulldogs flyer Reimis Smith and George Jennings while Issac Lumeleme filled in capably during 2020. Given Addo-Carr is also on the move, his spot will also need to be filled so plenty of opportunities for the three players.
Bench - It will be interesting to see if coach Bellamy continues with Nicho Hynes as the utility on the bench or adds another forward. If he opts for a forward the likes of Tom Eisenhuth, Darryn Schonig and Chris Lewis will all compete for a role.
VERDICT - Premiership Favourites. Even without Cameron Smith, the Storm will be favourites to match the Roosters with back to back premierships in the NRL era. Given what they achieved living in another state, the Storm have retained all but two players from the grand final team and to think they recall Queensland state of origin hero Harry Grant who gained a season of first grade experience at the Tigers instead of playing limited football behind Smith. If they can handle the threats mentioned above there is no doubt in my mind the club will finish top 4 again and are worthy premiership favourites.
How do you see the Storm going in 2021?