With the Super Bowl just a couple of weeks around the corner and the Pats a chance to continue one of the greatest dynasty’s in the history of sports, it seems only appropriate for us to turn our attention to the closest resemblance of that with have “down under”, the Melbourne Storm. And with Cameron Smith recently signing on for another two years, Australia’s version of the Brady / Belichick combination still have a couple of years left of frustrating their northern opponents with continued success.
It very much a case of “same same, but different” for the Melbourne Storm in 2018. Another trip to the grand final (where they eventually lost 21-6 to the Sydney Roosters) was achieved despite a deterioration in their attack with their league ranking falling from first to fifth in 2018. However, their defence continued to stand firm and was second only to the Roosters in what was all-in-all another successful year.
2019 however, signals the beginning of the end for the Storm with only one member of their “big three” remaining at the club. Billy Slater retired at the end of 2018, joining Cooper Cronk in the departures lounge at Tullamarine, leaving skipper, Cameron Smith to carry the leadership load of a largely young and exciting squad. Cameron Munster is now clearly the second best player at the club with the likes of Jahrome Hughes, Felise Kaufusi and Nelson Asofa-Solomona being the faces of the future.
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2019 GAINS & LOSSES
Additions: Marion Seve (Brisbane Broncos), Billy Walters, Thomas Eisenhuth, Tino Faasuamaleaui
Losses: Tim Glasby (Newcastle Knights), Billy Slater (retirement), Ryan Hoffman (retirement), Ryley Jacks (Gold Coast Titans)
Joining Slater as an outgoing is fellow Queensland representative star, Tim Glasby who has shifted to join Andrew and Daniel Johns at the coal mines, while Ryan Hoffman seeks refuge at an AVEO retirement village (unpaid plug, but happy to take a call?) and Ryley Jacks wants an opportunity to grow as an individual by experiencing losing on the Gold Coast.
It’s fair to say that the losses outweigh the ins with only the likes of Scott Sattler and Wacko Jacko being familiar with the new faces.
However, with change comes opportunity and there are a number of existing squad members that will look to capitalise on increased responsibilities this season.
LIKELY STARTING 17
1 Jahrome Hughes, 2. Josh Addo-Carr 3. Will Chambers 4. Curtis Scott 5. Suli Vunivalu 6. Cameron Munster 7. Brodie Croft 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Cameron Smith 10 Nelson Asofa-Solomona 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Joe Stimson 13 Dale Finucane. Interchange: 14. Brandon Smith 15. Kenny Bromwich 16. Albert Vete 17. Christian Welch
The big change from 2018 is of course the inclusion of Jahrome Hughes at fullback and the omission of the great Billy Slater. Tim Glasby will be missed through the middle, while Brandon Smith must be pulling hairs seeing the skipper run around again as the starting nine.
Through to their first bye, in round 12, the Storm face five of last years top eight, but three of these games will be played in Melbourne. Their first eight weeks in particular appears challenging with games against the Broncos, Panthers (away), Cowboys (away – they will bounce back this year), Roosters and the Sharks (away).
|1||Brisbane Broncos||AAMI Park|
|2||Canberra Raiders||GIO Stadium|
|3||Penrith Panthers||Carrington Park|
|4||Canterbury Bulldogs||AAMI Park|
|5||North Queensland Cowboys||1300SMILES Stadium|
|6||Sydney Roosters||AAMI Park|
|7||New Zealand Warriors||AAMI Park|
|8||Cronulla Sharks||Shark Park|
|9||Parramatta Eels||Suncorp Stadium|
|10||Wests Tigers||AAMI Park|
|11||Canterbury Bulldogs||Belmore Sports Ground|
Cameron Smith – (Price: $594,400, Position: HOK, 2018 Average: 64)
Cameron Smith produced his worst SuperCoach season in more than five years, finishing with a season average of 64 PPG, which was 11 PPG down on his 2017 output.
Whilst his MPG remained consistent, the main variation came from his try assist numbers with the decline resulting in 6.2 PPG reduction on his SuperCoach out. However, it should also be noted that Smith made eight last touches, so was it more a case of Smith’s “unicorn” points finally falling away? On the other hand (and many thanks to our resident Broncos stalker and SuperCoach genius, Wilfred Zee for this insight) including the post season*, the Storm scored almost 30 less tries, which of course therefore has to impact Smith’s attacking statistics.
With very few legitimate keeper options for hooker, Smith remains in the conversation with Damien Cook and the fact that he has signed a two year extension recently should suggest to us that his body is still feeling good. At a saving of over $100k when compared to Cook, picking Smith to start the year could be a shrewd decision.
* across both seasons
Felise Kaufusi – (Price: $565,100, Position: 2RF, 2018 Average: 60)
Felise Kaufusi has now put in two outstanding SuperCoach seasons with back-to-back averages of 60 PPG.
Many thought that he wouldn’t be able to follow on from his break-out season in 2017, due largely to a reliance on tries scored (eight). I’ll admit that I was definitely one of the doubters. However, Kaufusi proved us all wrong by matching his 2017 average last year despite scoring three less tries. His base output remained consistent at 46 BPPG, so it was incremental improvements in other areas, including a small increase in MPG that allowed him to maintain his 60 PPG average.
Whilst I’m not doubting him again and although he’s practically guaranteed 80 MPG in that Storm pack, he’s not quite at that ‘set and forget’ level just yet and falls behind a few at the position.
Cameron Munster – (Price: $548,500, Position: FLB/5/8, 2018 Average: 59)
After emerging in 2016, Cameron Munster is now a legitimate superstar of the game. And with season averages of 59, 67, 69 and 62 PPG, he’s also very much a SuperCoach gun.
The permanent shift to the halves has however impacted his SuperCoach output and in 2018 he played just the one game at fullback and scored 101 points. He managed to crack the ton just once more during the year.
His selection is also not assisted by the fact that he does not kick goals, which is often a big no-no for your halves.
On the plus side, he’s thankfully once again be given the dual position status with the ability to be picked at 5/8 or fullback. But, given the abundance of options at both positions (think Trbojevic, Tedesco, Ponga, Walker, Widdop, Milford, Moylan and Morgan) it’s hard to fit him into your squad at the price.
Nonetheless, he’s a proven POD option and should he return to past season averages of 67 and 69 PPG then he’s obviously undervalued.
Jahrome Hughes – (Price: $479,800, Position: FLB/HFB, 2018 Average: 51)
Jahrome Hughes is an absolute jet and he has the talent to be a more than just handy replacement for Billy Slater at fullback. He’s a proven SuperCoach performer too with past season averages of 77 (1 game), 64 (4 games) and 51 (11 games), but has been largely an injury / bye rounds fill-in player over that time. Fullback is now his position to own at the Storm for years to come if he can perform.
With close to 50% of his points coming from base and an average BPPG of 24.5, he is right up there with the elite fullback’s with regards to base PPG output. The improvement will need to come from his attacking statistics with just two tries and line-breaks produced last year. This hopefully can materialise through the permanent shift to fullback. He averaged 51 PPG in five games played at fullback last year compared to 47 in six games at halfback, but it’s important to note a 120 point score at fullback in round 17 is present, which skews these results.
Similar to Munster, Hughes is available as a dual positioned player (FLB / HFB), but unlike the Queensland representative star, he comes in priced at $70k less to start the season and has the potential, in my humble opinion, to produce similar figures to Munster in prior years. Isolating 2017 and 2018, Storm fullbacks (including Slater, Munster and at times, Hughes) have averaged 65 PPG over this period. Whilst, I acknowledge that neither Slater or Munster are just your average players, and one is probably a future Immortal, the fact that a position has yielded such output over two consecutive seasons is something worth pondering.
If he starts the season at fullback then Hughes will be very tempting.
Suliasi Vunivalu – (Price: $403,300, Position: CTW, 2018 Average: 43 PPG)
Suliasi Vunivalu has been a try scoring revelation since making his debut for the Storm in 2016. The Fijian winger had scored no less than 20 tries in each of his first two seasons, but 2018 saw him produce his worst tally of just 15 tries in 23 games. The Storm in general, and despite making the Grand Final once again, saw their attack diminish on 2017 as pointed out above. Total tries scored by the Storm (including the post season) fell from 125 to 95, which correlates to Vunivalu’s decline in output.
The key to Vunivalu returning to past season averages of 60 and 52 PPG will be of course more of the attack going through the right hand side, so he will be reliant on Brodie Croft demanding more of the ball from Smith and Munster – no easy task. The loss of Cronk following the 2017 season also appears to a significant impact on Vunivalu’s output.
Priced at an average of 43 PPG there is definite value in Vunivalu’s starting price, but question marks remain over whether or not he will see enough of the ball in 2019 to becoming SuperCoach relevant once again.
Joe Stimson – (Price: $352,900, Position: 2RF, 2018 Average: 38)
Whilst 2018 was an improvement on his debut season, Stimson is yet to fully breakout from a SuperCoach perspective with the young back-row forward failing to average more than 40 PPG across a full season.
With his MPG increasing from 41 to 53 over the course of the year, he was unable to fully capitalise on this given a relatively poor PPM rate of just 0.72. The main barrier preventing any dramatic improvement in his MPG this season is the fact that Felise Kaufusi and Dale Finucane already demand big minutes, with Kaufusi in particular being a noted 80 minute player. The opening for him may come from the makeup of the Storm bench with the likes of Brandon Smith (utility), Christian Welch (prop), Albert Vete (prop) and Sam Kasiano (prop) all unlikely to play in the back-row. However, Kenny Bromwich is likely to be provided with his customary 30-40 MPG and there are whispers that Nelson Asofa-Solomona could spend some time on the edge also.
Jesse Bromwich – (Price: $423,800, Position: FRF, 2018 Average: 45)
Jesse Bromwich has now had two extremely disappointing seasons back-to-back with a season average of 45 PPG in 2018 following on from an average of just 47 PPG in 2017. Reflecting a reduction of close to 20 PPG from the three seasons prior.
Despite the loss of Jordan McLean to the Cowboys in 2018, Bromwich’s minutes declined further from 50 to 47 MPG year-on-year. This can be partially attributed to the rise of Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Christian Welch with both of these players seeing an increase of 10 MPG in 2018. Tim Glasby’s minutes remained on par with 2017, but he is no longer with the club.
Bromwich turns 30 this year and is likely past his prime so unless we see a drastic improvement early on he is not relevant for SuperCoach.
Will Chambers – (Price: $378,100, Position: CTW, 2018 Average: 40)
Will Chambers was once a SuperCoach gun, but has largely lost his value across two of the past three years with season averages of 47, 55 and 40 PPG.
He’s certainly priced at an attractive level should he be able to regain past form, but he’s punching 31 this year and his best playing days do appear behind him. Improvement will need to come in the form of more hit-ups and line-breaks with these two statistical lines in particular weakening over the past few years and I’m predicting that this is a bridge too far for the Queensland centre in 2019.
Brandon Smith – (Price: $252,900, Position: HOK/2RF, 2018 Average: 27
Brandon Smith is the heir apparent to the future Immortal and incumbent hooker, Cameron Smith. It’s been well publicised of late that Brandon Smith is becoming increasingly restless with his role as a bench utility player and the recent contract extension for another two years of Cameron Smith could spark a request for greener pastures. For now, as long as the current club captain remains the main hooker, Brandon Smith is not SuperCoach relevant.
Scott Drinkwater – (Price: $219,400, Position: FLB, 2018 Average: 67
Let’s hope that Scott Drinkwater doesn’t follow in the footsteps of his brother, Josh Drinkwater, by becoming another one the worst SuperCoach options of all time.
Scott will be hoping to have an opportunity at some stage in the season to show his talents at fullback as the Storm look to replace their champion fullback, Billy Slater. However, Jahrome Hughes appears to be the early front-runner for the vacated number one jersey.
In the one game played last year, Drinkwater produced a very impressive 67 points thanks to a try, eight tackle-breaks and one line-break. This great performance however, means that he does not start rookie priced.
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