Cooper Cronk Might’ve Departed but You’d be Naive to Write off Melbourne Storm in 2018

The 2018 NRL season is fast approaching, with a host of clubs looking to topple Melbourne Storm, who once again continued their domination of the game in 2017, with the likes of Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk putting themselves even deeper into the history books of the Australian game.

Melbourne, under Craig Bellamy, won a minor premiership before their Grand Final triumph over the North Queensland Cowboys, and since the turn of the year have also added the World Club Challenge to their trophy cabinet, having swept aside the Leeds Rhinos 38-4 when Super League’s champions visited in mid-February.

Melbourne Storm vs Leeds Rhinos Credit: Getty Images

Melbourne Storm vs Leeds Rhinos Credit: Getty Images

Of course, Cronk has departed for the Sydney Roosters in one of the off-season’s most high-profile deals, which appears to have given the Roosters the edge in the race for success later this year, with Trent Robinson’s side priced at 5.00 in bet365’s National Rugby League betting markets to be victorious in the Grand Final later in 2018.

Melbourne, despite their domination domestically in 2017 and internationally in 2018, have drifted following the departure of Cronk, with Bellamy’s side even finding themselves behind the Cowboys – the team they defeated in last year’s Grand Final – in the betting odds.

It is always a dangerous game writing off the Storm, particularly before a ball has even been kicked in the NRL, as Bellamy’s squad still has some serious talent at their disposal. The wingers, Suliasi Vunivalu and Josh Addo-Carr, that came up against Leeds in the World Club Challenge looked lethal, with the former on the scoresheet against the Rhinos.

The 22-year-old has an incredible strike rate for such a young winger, having scored 46 tries in just 47 career appearances ahead of the 2018 campaign. Likewise, the man on the opposite flank, Addo-Carr, is also looking an extreme talent at just 22, having scored 29 tries in 36 appearances.

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The talent on show on the wings is obviously only as good as what is on the inside, but a half-back combination of Brodie Croft and Cameron Munster caused Leeds enough problems on Melbourne’s first proper outing since the departure of Cronk.

Added to that, a powerful pack will be bossed around by the remaining two of Melbourne’s holy trinity, with Smith and Slater both looking to add yet more silverware as they slowly edge towards the end of their glittering career. That duo has already been praised by Bellamy following the 2018 World Club Challenge win, with Storm’s head coach the first to praise the duo ahead of the new campaign.

The loss of Cronk might’ve hurt Melbourne, particularly with the half-back moving to a direct rival, who will be looking to return to the summit of the game in 2018, however, you would be a fool to write off Bellamy’s side.

There is still some extreme talent available to Melbourne this season, with their outside backs sure to frighten most in the NRL. However, not for the first time, Smith and Slater will be key, and even without Cronk in the halves, it would be naïve to think the duo can’t deliver more success, particularly with how they have started 2018.

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