Without a doubt, Melbourne Storm are one of the strongest teams in the National Rugby League, but two defeats in their last five games have put a dent in their almost unblemished record. After 17 league games, the Storm hold a two-point lead at the top of the table ? winning 13 whilst losing just four.
The Brisbane Broncos, Sydney Roosters and Manly Sea Eagles are all sniffing around in the race behind Melbourne, while a couple of recent defeats for defending champions Cronulla Sharks have damaged their aspirations of retaining the NRL title. But whilst all four have the ability to pip Melbourne, it almost feels like it is the Storm?s destiny to win big this year.
Defensively, the Storm are right up there with the best in the business. In fact, they are tied with none other than the Sharks for the best defensive record in the NRL ? conceding just 271 points at an average of just under 16 points per game. Putting points on the board is important, of course, but there?s an old adage in sport: defence wins championships and that could be the difference between Melbourne and the rest.
The Storm aren?t bad at the other end of the field, either, scoring more points than all but two (Manly and Brisbane) of their rivals. In Suliasi Vunivalu, they have one of the top try scorers in the NRL and Melbourne will be quietly confident of success if he avoids any serious injuries in the coming weeks. In addition, Josh Addo-Carr has bagged 12 tries ? giving Craig Bellamy?s men two of the four highest scorers in the league.
Some critics could claim that Melbourne are over-reliant on their two top scorers and that is a viable opinion. However, the Storm are about much more than simply getting Vunivalu and Addo-Carr over the try line. When you are talking about Australian rugby league greats, Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Melbourne captain Cameron Smith all come into conversation ? the Storm are lucky enough to have all three on their roster.
In terms of pure quality, Melbourne have more big name players than any of their rivals and their star-studded lineup should be good enough to win the regular season crown and the NRL title. The Storm are valued at 6/4 in the latest odds to be crowned NRL champions at the end of the campaign and it would take a brave man to back against Bellamy?s men with everybody fighting fit and raring to go after the State of Origin series.
Brisbane are looking strong right now but Melbourne have enough experience, talent and good coaching to hold their own at the top of the NRL ladder. With a number of their big name players retiring at the end of the season, the Storm will be desperate to triumph and give their loyal stars the perfect send-off. Nothing is a given in professional sport but Craig Bellamy?s Melbourne Storm will be right in the mix ? that?s for sure.