Tomorrow the World Club Challenge will be played in Melbourne for the first time as the Melbourne Storm host Leeds Rhinos, with the Storm are red hot favourites to lift the crown. In 2017 they were the team to watch in the NRL, having been beaten only 4 times all year. They were head and shoulders above the rest. They are bursting with world-class talent across the field and Leeds will have to be at their very best to stand a chance of coming home as World Club Champions.
In recent years when you think of the Melbourne Storm you usually think of ‘The Big 3’ and for good reason. Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Cameron Smith have been influential in Melbourne’s success over the past decade. In 2017 Cronk bowed out as a Storm player with another NRL winners medal. His departure to the Sydney Roosters leaves a big gap. However, in Slater and Smith, they still have two greats of the game who will link up with the expected new half-back pairing of Cameron Munster and Brodie Croft.
Slater, who will play in his 4th World Club Challenge – all against Leeds – is able to find gaps in the defence effortlessly at times. His support play and reading of the game are why he’s still the best full-back around. He had a sensational 2017 winning the NRL, State of Origin and the World Cup. He will be hoping to start 2018 with a World Club Challenge victory.
Slater will go down as one of the greats of the game, but the man that many in Australia call the greatest-of-all-time is Storm Captain Cameron Smith. The NRL all-time appearance maker is the main man behind the Storm’s success and picked up the Golden Boot and Dally M Medal in 2017.
The skill and talent of Smith is astounding at times. He is able to control the game and choose the best pass possible from acting-half. Every pass delivered with pin-point accuracy. He has a knack of kicking 40/20s when his team are in trouble, a superb conversion success and makes a tremendous amount of tackles. Smith has to go down as the greatest player in recent decades.
One of the key questions at the Storm is who will replace Cooper Cronk in the number 7 jersey. Brodie Croft looks like he will get the nod for the game against Leeds, ahead of Ryley Jacks. All eyes will be on the young half-back to see if he can fill the huge shoes left. In Cameron Munster he has a five-eighth alongside him, who had a superb year for Club, State and Country in 2017.
Every great side needs wingers who can finish; in Suliasi Vunivalu and Josh Addo-Carr, Melbourne have that. The pair topped the NRL try scoring charts with 23 a piece in 2017. They have frightening pace that can cause any side problems and with Will Chambers and Curtis Scott on the inside of them, they score tries for fun.
The forwards are also a key element of Melbourne’s success and the stand-out forward is Felise Kaufusi. He played in every game last season scoring 9 tries and was Melbourne’s top tackler with 898. The forwards are excellent at getting the team up the field from their own 20, which allows the backs to turn on the style when in range of their opponents try-line.
Not only is it hard to stop the boys in purple from scoring, it’s tough work getting past their defence. Coach Craig Bellamy and the Storm players pride themselves on their defence. The Storm dominated the NRL last season and if Leeds are to beat them at AAMI Park, they would be rightly crowned the best team in the world.