Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Melbourne Storm was a club in disarray twelve months ago.

Busted by salary cap auditor, Ian Schubert, for years of systematically cheating the cap, Melbourne were at their lowest ebb in the club’s sixteen year history.

Stripped of their points for 2010, and also of their premiership title three years earlier, the humiliation for them was complete. It wasn’t just the administration that had to suffer the accusations; the coaching staff and players were in the firing line, too.

Weeks of endless stories in the public domain, accusing anyone and everyone, eventually got to them. Performance declined with nothing to play for, along with the knowledge that many of their playing staff of the time would be forced to leave the club due to the financial restraints Melbourne would now have to work within.

The rebuilding process would be a long process, they knew. Competitive they may still be, but without that solid second tier of talent to keep the team afloat in times of injury, they couldn’t possibly dominate to the extent they had previously.

Could they?

Well, here they are twelve months down the track and on top of the NRL ladder. A mild winter’s day has passed us by and Melbourne has beaten the New Zealand Warriors 16-8, at Mt Smart Stadium. There was no Greg Inglis. Ryan Hoffman has gone. Brett Finch has moved on. There are others, too, that had to be released.

Instead, it’s the likes of Dane Nielsen, Gareth Widdop, Ryan Hinchcliffe and Kevin Proctor. They are hardly what you would refer to as household names.

At least they weren’t until Storm Coach, Craig Bellamy, got his hands on them and set about turning what were considered journeymen, into top class players. Sure, he still has his three stars in Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk to help the cause. Yet, he often manages to find a way to get his team across the line when the big three are missing.

Bellamy is just that good. Make no mistake; he is one of the best coaches going around. In his time in Brisbane as an assistant coach, he learnt from master coach, Wayne Bennett.

He may yet turn out to be better than what Bennett is.

Any team of Bellamy’s is well drilled. Errors are kept to a minimum. Nothing fancy is attempted unless it is truly a viable option.

It’s simple really. Run from dummy half, commit defenders. If there is an opportunity to put someone through a it. Otherwise use the kiss method for the first two to three tackles of a set before finding space out wide. If none exists, put in a kick and play the game in the opposition half.

They graft away, slowly grind the opposition down. As teams weary of the constant flow of pressure that the Cameron Smith led unit exert,The Storm pounce on the inevitable errors that come their way.

And they always do. Just ask Lance Hohaia. Twice he either let the ball bounce or dropped the pill. Both times Storm players were there to take advantage. Two mistakes on the part of The Warriors, and two tries to The Storm.

Melbourne takes their chances, which come about from having a plan that they adhere too.

The New Zealand Warriors, on the other hand, spent eighty minutes giving the impression that they were playing ad-lib football.

Wonder how Craig Bellamy would react if his side took that approach?

Melbourne Storm 16 (Billy Slater 2, Gareth Widdop tries; Cameron Smith 2 goals) New Zealand Warriors 8 (Lance Hohaia try; James Maloney 2 goals). Halftime: 10-2.

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