Even when they are missing a couple of players, more often than not the Melbourne Storm are good. Annoyingly good. This is what makes their recent slump in form all the more intriguing.
On a cold Friday night in Wollongong with superstar fullback Billy Slater returning from injury, the Storm were hot favourites to pick up the win and arrest their losing streak. The bit three were back together. Surely, they would get the result.
But they didn’t. The Dragons were bigger, stronger, faster and yes, while they did score two intercept tries against the run of play, they managed to hold the Storm out long enough to claim a gutsy victory. This was anything but business as usual for a team that has gone from minor premiership certainties to the second worst losing streak in their 14 year history, in the space of a couple of months. So, where’s it all going wrong?
Well, despite Slater’s return, the Storm are still missing troops. You wouldn’t exactly put Matt Duffie, Justin O’Neill or Gareth Whiddop in the same class as someone like Cam Smith, but they are all solid first graders, essential cogs in the Melbourne lineup.
And you have to look at the teams that have put the Storm to the sword during the winless streak. Bulldogs are top of the ladder, Raiders are a bogey team, Cowboys are no easy-beats, Eels were looking to send Stephen Kearney out a winner and the Dragons were playing for their season. In a sense, it’s a tough draw as much as anything else which is causing the Storm trouble.
But the worrying thing is their defence. A lot of tries seem to be scored against the Storm these days that you wouldn’t have imagined being scored half a season ago. In catering for the Big Three, Storm inevitably have a little less cash to spend on their forward pack, and this dearth of class can be telling in games where a little extra defensive steel is needed to hold the opposition out.
It’s interesting that it should happen against the Dragons, because they of all teams should know exactly what it feels like. After storming out of the gates in 2011, the then Wayne Bennett-led side suffered a serious post-origin hangover, dropping from first to fifth to scrape into the semi finals with no momentum. If Melbourne can’t find the answers they run a very real risk of doing the same.
The Storm are due to play Penrith in the next round which should be a totally winnable game by their standards. It’s just a matter of getting the result. It would be foolish to write off a team so good, so early in the year. But recent results have been anything but encouraging.
:: Ben Squires
- Storm’s NRL backline depth tested (news.theage.com.au)
- Dragons shock Storm 26-18 (news.theage.com.au)