Melbourne Storm powered to another NRL title success when beating Penrith Panthers in last season’s enthralling Grand Final.
They secured victory with a blistering first half showing that proved too much for table-toppers Penrith to overcome as the clash ended 26-20 to Cam Smith’s side.
However, no sooner did Melbourne take home the trophy, their opponents were beginning preparations to dethrone them in 2021.
Fans looking to bet on the NRL with the bet365 promo code will probably be keen to take on the Storm this time around. They are currently 6/1 with bet365 to back-up their title triumph, which indicates just how tough that challenge is going to be.
Here we take a look at some of the factors they will have to overcome, as well as some of the teams that have them in their sights as the new campaign nears.
Cam Smith Loss Could Prove Too Challenging
NRL great Cameron Smith will not re-sign for Melbourne and looks to bow out on the back of leading them to title glory in 2020.
Rumours of a move to Gold Coast or Brisbane continue to circulate but, whatever the outcome, he won’t be lining up for the Storm.
The 37-year-old star will leave a massive hole to fill at the club he has spent 18 years and played more than 500 games.
A lot will come down to how previous understudies Harry Grant and Brandon Smith fill those boots in the hooker role.
Smith has recently established himself as New Zealand’s number 9, while 22-year-old Grant enjoyed a breakthrough year on-loan at Wests Tigers.
Both men will be pushing for starts in Melbourne colours this time around, but it remains to be seen if they can find the same levels of consistency.
Questions Over Aging Pack
Melbourne have also lost big Tino Fa’asuamaleaui following his breakout campaign.
Any hopes that he would help lead a changing of the old guard were soon cut short as the Titans moved in with a lucrative three-year deal that the five-game rookie couldn’t turn down.
Jesse Bromwich, Kenny Bromwich and even Felise Kaufusi aren’t getting any younger and that ageing pack could well be another barrier to backing up.
Certainly, losing the fresh legs of Fa’asuamaleaui will put some added strain on that area as another year rolls by.
Panthers Ready for Revenge
The Storm will need no warning about the might of their Grand Final opponents heading into next season.
Penrith enjoyed an impressive year that saw them finish five points clear at the top of the group stages.
They eventually stumbled at the final hurdle but will surely be pushing once again when NRL action gets back underway.
Panthers quickly looked to freshen up their squad following the final defeat as James Tamou, Jack Hetherington, Caleb Aekin, Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, Pat Hollis and Brayden McGrady all headed for the exit.
They have since added some new faces, including outside back Robert Jennings and forward Matt Eisenhut, as they push for a first title in 17 long years.
A key factor in their challenge may also be how new skipper Isaah Yeo fills the leadership void left by the departing Tamou.
Penrith will also want further development from the outstanding Nathan Cleary and talented upstarts Stephen Crichton and Jarome Luai.
However, history is not on their side. No team has bounced back to overcome Grand Final heartbreak the very next season since the Storm managed it in 2016.
Eels and Sea Eagles Set to Cause Upsets
The open-looking nature of this coming campaign means there are a few other teams worth considering.
The Raiders and Rabbitohs won’t be short of support in 2021, but outside hopefuls the Parramatta Eels and Manly Sea Eagles could be two teams that carry a big threat should they make the Finals.
First of all, both could benefit massively from the introduction of two-point drop goals next season.
The new rule has been brought in by league officials keen to encourage more unstructured play and change to the result in the final moments.
This will have Manly’s Daly Cherry-Evans and Parramatta’s Mitch Moses chomping at the bit to fire their sides to dramatic late wins.
For the Sea Eagles, the capture of youngsters Christian Tuipulotu and Jason Saab could prove shrewd business. Saab especially showed his capabilities for St George Illawarra last term and the 19-year-old could have a bigger role to play for Manley.
As for the Eels, they have playmaker Clinton Gutherson coming of age and maturing into a smart, creative force that they will be able to build their attacks around.
Bolstering their defensive ranks to complement their attacking prowess will be key to their chances.
In summary, the Storm face a big challenge to follow-up their 2020 success. The teams quickest into stride after a host of transfer dealings are the ones likely to thrive in what is looking another open but enticing NRL season.