Elevating the exhausted side into the title shot would rank among Bellamy’s top accomplishments
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If Craig Bellamy can get this Storm side back into the top four and into Premiership competition they will be up there with his best performances as a coach even if they don’t go all the way.
The Storm are third favorites to win the NRL this year, behind Penrith and the Roosters, but that high rating is based on their track record rather than where they are.
They’re by no means fighting for talent, but after shedding a mountain of experience in the offseason and facing a mounting injury tally ahead of Round 1, the prognosis is bleak… by the Storm’s stratospheric standards.
You could make strong arguments that the Rabbitohs and Cowboys and even the Eels and Sharks are better bets to get your hands on the trophy on Grand Final night.
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It will be difficult to assess Storm’s Premiership credentials when they start the season against Parramatta on Thursday night at the CommBank Stadium.
Both teams are genuine contenders but are both without several stars – the Eels are without the healthy, wealthy and suspended Ryan Matterson, as well as fellow forwards Shaun Lane (fractured jaw) and Nathan Brown (thigh strain).
The Storm’s injury woes are one of the reasons Bellamy faces a mammoth task not only to extend his unbeaten streak into Round 1 – the Storm hasn’t lost a season opener since 2001, before taking over Mark Murray – but also to compete with him Competitive Heavyweights.
Star full-back Ryan Papenhuyzen looks like he won’t be spotted until mid-season due to the shattered kneecap he sustained against Canberra last year.
Then there’s center Justin Olam with a broken arm and brace Tui Kamikamica, who has a foot problem and won’t be spotted until Round 5.
Experienced duo Tariq Sims and Tepai Moeroa are out for a few more weeks with calf problems, fellow forward Tom Eisenhuth is also out for Round 1 with a back problem, while center Marion Seve and winger George Jennings were knocked down by illness and knee problems.
And to top it off, young winger Dean Ieremiah tore his cruciate ligament in the tryout win over the Warriors and won’t play at all this season.
It got to the point where the club had to get an exemption from the NRL to call up four players from outside their main roster in order to have enough fit bodies to form a roster to take on the Eels with center young Tonumaipea and bench forward Chris Lewis to compete on Thursday evening.
Then there’s the fact that Bellamy had to say goodbye to the Premiership-winning quartet of Jesse and Kenny Bromwich, Felise Kaufusi and Brandon Smith during the off-season when the Dolphins and Roosters swarmed with lucrative offers.
Nick Meaney is a capable replacement for Papenhuyzen at full-back and Bellamy still has an all-star backbone from Cameron Munster, Jahrome Hughes and Harry Grant.
With Queensland duo Christian Welch and Xavier Coates, Olam, Kamikamica and Nelson Asofa-Solomona – when he’s at his best and not dishing out cheap shots – there’s plenty of talent on the list.
But this Melbourne line-up doesn’t have the aura of the strong sides of recent history.
In addition to navigating the gradual departure of Superstar Club stars Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Cameron Smith in recent years, Bellamy has defied predictions of a Storm demolition to keep the team at the top end of the ladder.
The fact that fifth place last year was its worst result since 2014 tells you all you need to know about the high expectations for the Victorian powerhouse’s enduring success.
There are five clubs – the Wests Tigers, St George Illawarra, Warriors, Knights and Gold Coast – that have failed to finish as high as Storm’s worst result over the same period.
The standout achievement of Bellamy’s career is his three Premiership triumphs. (The other two big finishes weren’t wins due to the salary cap later revealed – the Storm finished those two nights in 2007 and ’09 with more points, but just like Ben Johnson did when he crossed the finish line first at the 1988 Olympics, won nothing ).
His effort to keep the team together in 2010, when salary caps were imposed and the Storm had to play most of the season without an opportunity to earn competition points, is his best coaching achievement alongside the three titles.
They received the wooden spoon but finished with a 14-10 record that would have put them fifth overall.
Anyway, that’s ancient history now, and Bellamy’s sole focus is on casting his magic on the 2023 squad while shelving the annual “Will he retire” debate for a few months before likely deciding that he still can’t shake off the coaching bug.
“We’ve had a couple of personnel changes with a couple of injuries, so what we thought at the start of preseason would be our 17 has obviously changed a lot,” Bellamy told reporters in Melbourne on Wednesday after the team’s preparations were under way had completed boarding a flight to Sydney.
“We just had to work hard on the combinations and hopefully tomorrow night it can work out a bit.”
Aside from the 2010 season when the salary cap was sanctioned, the Storm have never finished lower than sixth in Bellamy’s 20 years at the helm.
With all his injuries and the departure of the stars, Melbourne could struggle to maintain that record this season… but don’t bet on it.
https://www.theroar.com.au/2023/03/02/storm-aura-slipping-lifting-depleted-side-into-title-contention-would-rank-among-bellamys-top-achievements/ Elevating the exhausted side into the title shot would rank among Bellamy's top accomplishments