2018 looms as a pivotal season for the seemingly perennial premiership contenders. There is no Cooper Cronk for the first time in like forever, plus they lose A grade forwards in Jordan McLean and Tohu Harris. The return of Ryan Hoffman and the recruitment of Sam Kasiano will fill the void in the forward pack to a certain extent, while the Storm will be hoping that young gun Brodie Croft can continue his impressive 2017 form and step in for Cronk. If the past has taught us anything it’s that a Craig Bellamy / Cameron Smith led side, coupled with the phenomenon that is the Storm culture should see the Melbourne side feature at pointy end of the season once again.
Ins: Sam Kasiano (Bulldogs), Ryan Hoffman (Warriors), Patrick Kaufusi (Cowboys), Sandor Earl (unattached), Ryan Papenhuyzen (Wests Tigers), Billy Walters (Brisbane Easts), Cooper Johns (Sea Eagles), Kayleb Milne (NZ rugby)
Outs: Cooper Cronk (Roosters), Tohu Harris (Warriors), Jordan McLean (Cowboys), Robbie Rochow (Wests Tigers), Jesse Arthars (Rabbitohs), Slade Griffin (Knights), Mark Nicholls (Rabbitohs)
1 Billy Slater, 2 Suliasi Vunivalu, 3 Curtis Scott, 4 Will Chambers, 5 Josh Addo-Carr, 6 Cameron Munster, 7 Brodie Croft, 8 Jesse Bromwich, 9 Cameron Smith, 10 Tim Glasby, 11 Ryan Hoffman, 12 Felise Kaufusi, 13 Dale Finucane.
Interchange: 14 Nelson Asofa-Solomona, 15 Kenny Bromwich, 16 Sam Kasiano, 17 Christian Welch.
Reserves: 18 Joe Stimson, 19 Patrick Kaufusi, 20 Cheyse Blair, 21 Tui Kamikamica.
Note: Taken from NRL.com
The Storm face a tough start to the season with games against four of last seasons finalists and five away games in the opening 10 rounds of the year. Games against the Bulldogs and Tigers should prove to be favorable; while they face the Broncos and Cowboys at home and the Sharks away in a tough five week period.
Cameron Smith – ($667.4k, HOK) – 2017 Ave 75.2
Much like a good red wine, the future Immortal has just got better with age. At 34, 2017 proved to be statistically one of Smith’s best years, averaging 75.2 SuperCoach points per game (PPG), and 76.3 minutes per game (MPG). Given that his season also included three games for Queensland and seven matches for Australia, including a World Cup, there’s little to support anything but respect for his professionalism and resilience.
Despite the hefty price, Smith is clearly the leading HOK option in SuperCoach, with the Storm rake finishing the season with an average almost 20 PPG closer than the next best in Cameron McInnes (57.7 PPG). There will be a tipping point one year, but I am not concerned that 2018 is it, and I am struggling to think of too many negatives that would sway you in your decision to start with him in Round 1. The loss of Cronk will no doubt be interesting, but this could simply mean that Smith gets more play-making responsibilities. In the one game without Cronk in 2017 (Round 14), Smith scored 100 points, while in 2016 they both played 23 games and in 2015 Smith scored 82 and 54 in the two games where the halfback was missing. It’s a small sample, but it’s the best we have to go off. The loss of Cronk should not hinder Smith’s output.
You can be cute with your side in places and look to cull a gun here and there, but for me HOK is not that position. Pick Cameron Smith, just do it.
Billy Slater ($606k, FLB) – 2017 Ave 68.3
When considering the seriousness of the injury that Billy Slater was returning from in 2017, his season was nothing short of phenomenal. Let’s not forget that he was overlooked for the first Queensland side! In 18 games, Slater produced 68.3 PPG including seven tries, 18 try assists, 74 tackles breaks and 19 line-break assists. Stop it Billy. The concerning aspect from a SuperCoach perspective is that his base statistics aren’t fantastic at an average of just 21 PPG, seeing him ranked outside the top 30 for fullbacks. In 2015 (he missed all but one game in 2016) his base was similar and produced just over 54 PPG. A “pick Smith, wait on Billy” strategy seems reasonable to me.
Cameron Munster ($593k, FLB & 5/8) – 2017 Ave 66.8
Making the 5/8 position his own in 2017, Cameron Munster had an extremely consistent season, finishing the year with an average just shy of his 2016 mark. With base PPG over 30, Munster is a SuperCoach weapon for either your 5/8 or fullback position and given the dearth of depth in both positions this season there is a chance that he could be absent in many Round 1 teams. At close to $600k, its’s likely that most SuperCoaches are unlikely to include Munster initially. The loss of Cronk will see him become “the man” and in a team that still boasts an amazing amount of talent, particularly in the outside backs, I am backing him to produce similar numbers in 2018. Pick him with confidence despite the fact that he is not the nominated goal kicker (all about that base, baby!).
Felise Kaufusi ($534k, 2RF) – 2017 Ave 60.2
What a breakout season Felise Kaufusi had in 2017! Having played 22 games at just an average of 28.8 PPG in 2016, 2017 proved to be a very different story with the edge forward increasing his minutes from 27.5 minutes per game (MPG) to 77.3 MPG. This enabled him to produce SuperCoach output at elite levels with a season average of 60.2 PPG. However, hidden in these statistics are eight tries and 11 line-breaks, resulting in base PPG of just 45. This level of attacking output placed him on a similar level to that of Jake Trbojevic and Paul Vaughan; however, Kaufusi was considerably worse off in base statistics when compared to these two. Priced below the absolute elite SuperCoach 2RF’s, Kaufusi could be considered to be a value pick this; however, I am very wary given his reliance on attacking statistics and his basement is a lot lower than other gun 2FR options with 11 sub 50 scores in 2017. He has also lost his dual position flexibility this season. Avoid.
Brodie Croft ($476.8k, HFB) – 2017 Ave 76.8
Despite receiving a nice discount this year (priced at around a 55 PPG average), Brodie Croft is a no go for me. At just 20 years of age, Croft will carry some of the the Storm’s play-making responsibilities; however, with the likes of Smith, Munster and Slater in the side it’s unlikely that he’s going to have be much more than a catch and pass kinda guy. I’m thinking that he fills a role similar to that of Blake Green in years gone past. He is also unfortunately priced unbelievably awkwardly at $478.8k thanks to four super impressive games in 2017 where he produced four tries, three try assists, three line-breaks and two line-break assists. At the price point there are in my mind much better options at HFB this season. A cash cow wasted!
Jesse Bromwich ($413.6k, FRF) – 2017 Ave 46.6
You know those dreams where you wake in a pool of sweat and thank fk that it was just a dream, then you go back to sleep and wake up with Morning Glory? Well that was Jesse Bromwich’s 2017. A serious off-field misdemeanor saw him suspended from playing with the Storm, stripped of his NZ captaincy and banned from taking part in the World Cup. Completely destroying his season…well up until the point when he won a premiership medal. Let’s just write off the 2016 season for Jesse.
Wind back the clock and Bromwich is a bonafide SuperCoach gun, with season averages of 65, 62 and 68 in the three years prior. A reduction in minutes of 10 per game, coupled with the fact that he pretty much put his offload away with just 17 completed compared to 43 in 2016 (I’m not convinced at all that his thumb was ever really OK following an injury in Round 1) answers a large part of why his SuperCoach relevance effectively fell off a cliff during the year. We all have off years, but the fact is that he has had more elite years than bad and let’s not forget that he is in the prime of his career at 28 years age, suggests that we should forgive and forget. Welcome to the Wenins, Jesse.
In such a star studded side with an unfair at times amount of depth, there is, on the face of it, little to get excited about here from a cash cow perspective. The key youngster is obviously Brodie Croft, but as pointed out above he is not rookie priced. Tui Kamikamica at $177k may be a player to watch; however, he may struggle to see enough minutes in the forward pack. Apart from that, I don’t have much else to provide you with…