Panthers shine as Storm struggle in 2014


The Melbourne Storm must overcome their worst start to an NRL season since 2002 if they are to keep their proud tradition of semi-final football alive.


For the first time in Craig Bellamy’s 12-year tenure as coach, the Storm find themselves outside the top eight at the halfway point of the year.

Melbourne’s benchmark for consistency and success can’t last forever, and cracks are beginning to appear.

With superstars Cooper Cronk (arm) and Billy Slater (shoulder) battling injury problems and the gruelling State of Origin period only halfway through, the Storm are fighting their biggest battle under Bellamy outside of the 2010 salary cap scandal which resulted in them losing all their points.

It’s a worrying snapshot of what the Storm could be up against over the next couple of seasons, with Bellamy indicating 2016 will be his last year as coach, and the big three of Cronk, Slater and Cameron Smith all turning 31 by December.

In 2003 the Storm had the same win-loss ratio of six and six and still made the semi-finals.

And while ninth on the ladder at round 13 is far from disastrous, the Storm usually set the foundations for their season by the halfway point of the year.

Origin always hits the Storm hard, but usually they’re able to soak up a few losses until Smith, Cronk and Slater rejuvenate for the business end of the season.

But in 2014 they don’t have that luxury, and need wins desperately.

It’s virtually uncharted territory for one of the most consistent teams in rugby league history.

“It’s a frustrating time at the moment but we’ve got to keep our noses to the grindstone and work our way out of it,” Bellamy said.

“It’s only hard work that’s going to get us out of it.”

Every team in the NRL would struggle without their chief playmakers, but none more than the Storm who simply don’t have the balance in their roster to overcome the absences of Cronk, Slater and Smith.

Cronk isn’t expected back until round 20 and Slater, if he even plays Origin II, would be going in at less than 100 per cent.

Three teams lead the NRL after 13 rounds – with Penrith edging out Canterbury and Manly on for and against.

The Panthers have a great draw over the next month and with no players in State of Origin, can really make a move.

However, they have yet to prove themselves against a heavyweight side.

Canterbury have been hit hard during Origin, but should regroup, but last year’s grand finalists Manly and the Sydney Roosters are once again hard to ignore.

The Sea Eagles have been up and down due to their hefty injury toll, while the Roosters are only now getting into their rhythm after a slow start.

Bellamy says the defending premiers will take some stopping.

“Without a doubt. They’re a very talented team and you go through their starting 13, and there are two of them that aren’t either Origin or international players,” said Bellamy.

“You’d say they’re the benchmark, and they’re just starting to warm up. They’re not the premiers for nothing.”

Parramatta and Wests Tigers are currently locked in the top eight and along with Penrith have been the surprise packets so far.

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