The word ‘dynasty’ doesn’t often get used in Rugby League. The game is too unpredictable, and subject to change from the smallest of factors. One player, or even one game can define a season. In a league where Jarryd Hayne, Todd Carney and Brett Stewart can almost singlehandedly drive a team to the Grand Final in one year and essentially become non-factors in others, consistency is a rare commodity. The only club you could mention in the same sentence as ‘consistent’ is the Melbourne Storm, but is their claim to consistency, and Dynasty, still legitimate?
Many were understandably outraged when Melbourne’s manipulation of the Salary Cap was uncovered in 2010. Moreover, with this revelation about the most dominant club in NRL history, it seemed to support the opinion that Dynasty was not acheivable in Australia’s premier Rugby League competition.
Then came 2011. The Storm had lost Greg Inglis, but they were still minor premiers, and only lost to the red-hot Warriors in the preliminary final. Even at this stage however, those with tall poppy syndrome in Australia argued that the Storm couldn’t keep it up, and that their loss to the unheralded Warriors showed that they were not the team they once were.
Then came 2012. A second legitimate premiership after one of the more dominant seasons in NRL history placed the Melbourne Storm at the top of the NRL and as presumptive premiership favourites for the foreseeable future. Even though they claimed their last two premierships by cheating the system, this was the club making the statement that they could win without cheating, and that they would have done it in 2007 and 2009.
Somehow, the salary cap scandal of 2010 didn’t ruin the club, as many predicted. Instead, it galvanized the players and coach Craig Bellamy. It gave them a chip on their shoulder and a greater desire to win, if that was possible. This is not to say that the league penalties on the club were anything but justified, but the Storm took it to mean that they weren’t good enough as a team to win legitimately, and from 2011 they set out to prove otherwise. And then some.
But it takes more than just belief to win a Premiership. Great players are key, and a great coach is vital. Many premiership teams have great coaches and at least one great player. Think of Manly: Des Hasler and Brett Stewart, Brisbane: Wayne Bennet and Darren Lockyer, West Tigers: Tim Sheens and Benji Marshall. But what seperates the Melbourne Storm as the NRL’s first and only Dynasty is that they have a great coach in Craig Bellamy and 3 great players in Cooper Cronk, Bily Slater and Cameron Smith. Three great players allow more for consistency; Billy Slater might have an off game, but Cameron Smith might have a blinder.
However, their individual performances are not their most important contribution to the club. The plays where they combine have become the Storm’s trademark. The Smith-to-Slater grubber kick on the try line comes to mind, as well as the quick passing plays from the ruck that combine all three. These plays, which would be highlight reel plays at any other club, are commonplace in Melbourne. Arguably the greatest hooker and fullback in history combined with easily one of the 3 best halfbacks in the game today form the nucleus of a team that has proved time and time again that they are the greatest club side the NRL has ever seen, and may ever see for a very long time.
The inspiration that these players provide to the rest of the club cannot be overstated. Nor can the impact of Bellamy be exaggerated. Under his watch, the Melbourne Storm have actually perfected tackling. This may not sound like much, but if you’ve ever watched the way the Storm tackle, it’s almost unfair. They consistently commit two players to the tackle, one high, one low, and always allow the other 11 players to get onside. This obviously cuts down on defensive errors dramatically. Other clubs have taken notice and tackle just as well as the Storm on occasion, but they are the benchmark. It seems like a small thing, but it’s just an example of how Craig Bellamy demands the best from his players and more often than not gets it. Anyone who’s seen the passionate and usually hilarious reaction shots of Bellamy in the Coach’s Box during a game knows that he holds his players to such a high standard that he should by all rights be despised, but instead his players have nothing but a fierce loyalty towards him. Bellamy is truly a great coach, and his ability to bounce back from the 2010 scandal and still command respect and awe shows that he is as much of a reason for the Storm’s dominance as Cronk, Slater, and Smith, if not more.
As much as your garden variety Rugby League fan might like to gnash their teeth and argue the legitimacy of the Storm being labelled a Dynasty, anyone looking objectively at the landscape of Rugby League in Australia can see that as a result of truly great coaching and three truly great players, the Storm’s results – even in their legitimate seasons – towers above all the other clubs. While many NRL clubs are finalists one year and wooden spooners the next, the storm will be a premiership contender, year in, year out. That is Dynasty.