This off-season has been plagued with more movement and unpredictability than any in recent memory for the Melbourne Storm.
While the big moves are a year away, with the departures of Felise Kaufusi, the Bromwich brothers and Brandon Smith set for season's end, the Storm did lose some heavy hitters this off-season, including Nicho Hynes, Dale Finucane, and Josh Addo-Carr.
Coach Craig Bellamy always has a plan however, and he will be out to continue the near-perfect 2021 season, which included a monumental 19-game winning streak through the middle of the season, before they were eventually brought undone in the preliminary finals.
Ins: Xavier Coates (Brisbane Broncos, 2023), Sua Fa'alogo (2024), Bronson Garlick (2022), Cole Geyer (2023), Josh King (Newcastle Knights, 2023), Nick Meaney (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, 2023), Jayden Nikorima (2022), Will Warbrick (2023)
Outs: Josh Addo-Carr (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Daniel Atkinson (released), Aaron Booth (Gold Coast Titans), Dale Finucane (Cronulla Sharks), Nicho Hynes (Cronulla Sharks), Ryley Jacks (released), Max King (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Brenko Lee (Brisbane Broncos), Isaac Lumelume (released), Aaron Pene (New Zealand Warriors), Tyson Smoothy (released), Judda Turahui (released)
Star player: Ryan Papenhuyzen
Behind Tom Trbojevic at the Sea Eagles, Papenhuyzen is one of the game’s best players, and his role will be more important than ever this season. Without Nicho Hynes to back him up, the Storm can ill-afford the star to spend weeks on the sidelines again.
Despite that, Papenhuyzen was superb both before and after his injury last year and will be a critical component of any Melbourne push to the finals.
Rising star: Jack Howarth
At only 19 years old, many did a double-check when they saw the Storm offered former Australian Schoolboy Jack Howarth a five-year extension that will see him with the club until at least 2027.
While it isn’t typically Melbourne’s style to bet so much on an unproven talent like they have with Howarth, centre, who can also play second-row, is oozing with potential.
Most under pressure: Xavier Coates
Xavier Coates enjoyed a big year in 2021, scoring 11 tries for the Broncos in just 17 games and representing Queensland in the State of Origin for the second year in a row. The 20-year-old Coates is expected to flourish under Bellamy’s tutelage, but he is attempting to replace Josh Addo-Carr.
Addo-Carr, in 22 performances for the Storm in 2021, produced 23 tries and 76 tackle breaks, dwarfing Coates’ otherwise impressive numbers.Coates will improve in 2022, both statistically and as an all-around player, butthe expectation that Coates will just plug-and-play the exact same role as Addo-Carr is off the mark and leaves him under the pump.
Five matches to watch
Match 1: Round 2, vs South Sydney Rabbitohs, at AAMI Park (Thu, Mar 17, 8:05pm)
Match 2: Round 10, vs Penrith Panthers, at Suncorp Stadium (Sat, May 14, 7:45pm)
Match 3: Round 12, vs Manly Sea Eagles, at AAMI Park (Thu, May 26, 7:50pm)
Match 4: Round 17, vs Cronulla Sharks, at PointsBet Stadium (Thu, Jul 7, 7:50pm)
Match 5: Round 24, vs Sydney Roosters, at AAMI Park (Fri, Aug 26, 7:55pm)
The expectation placed on Melbourne is likely the exact same they have of themselves - premiership or bust. This mentality has served them well during the Bellamy-era and they have the troops on board to sustain their greatness for even longer.
With a plethora of departures coming in a year's time and some additions to open up this season, including Xavier Coates and Nick Meaney, the makeup of Melbourne is clearly shifting, but the model - and end result - likely won’t.