If you’re looking for Australia’s most successful professional sporting team over the past decade, or more, you have to look at the Melbourne Storm.
Since Craig Bellamy took the reins as coach in 2003, the Storm have missed the finals only once – when they were forced to play for no competition points in 2010 as part of the penalty for rorting the salary cap – and they still won 14 games!
In 2006, when Cooper Cronk moved into the halfback role following the departure of Matt Orford, they started a run of sustained success with a 20-4 win-loss season.
This year, they matched that record to finish atop the table for the sixth time in 12 seasons.
But the record books show just one premiership, the 2012 title, with the 2007 and 2009 victories stripped from the club for breaching the salary cap.
Last season, the Storm finished on top but lost a thrilling grand final 14-12 to the drought-breaking Cronulla Sharks.
There’s no doubt the fact that regular-season dominance hasn’t been capped off with the ultimate success would be weighing on the team.
“I suppose to have a legacy in 30 or 40 years’ time [people will ask] ‘how can you say they were the best team of the era when they only won one comp in that time?’,” NRL great Mark Geyer told The New Daily.
The ghosts of past failures are real for the star-studded Storm.
After claiming the minor premiership in 2011, they famously lost a home preliminary final to the New Zealand Warriors, which had finished sixth.
Geyer said, even without that history of futility, preliminary finals are pressure-filled.
“I think when it is do-or-die, and if you lose, that’s it for the season, it ties your stomach up in a few more knots than usual,” he said.
“Even though Melbourne and the Roosters are pronounced favourites, I still think both the Broncos and the Cowboys are a chance of victory.”
Other than North Queensland, which is riding something of an unexpected wave, Geyer believes the other three teams “will have a bit of angst about them”.
“Melbourne are the Winx of the NRL. They’re basically supposed to win every time they play,” he said.
“The Broncos demand success, especially with Darius Boyd back this weekend. And the Roosters have had a pretty clear run.
“So those three teams will be anxious, while the Cowboys won’t – they’ve got nothing to lose.”
Geyer, whose younger brother Matt played 262 games for Melbourne between 1998 and 2008, said it’s hard not to think the premiership is Storm’s to lose.
“I think this is the best Melbourne Storm team we’ve ever seen, ever since they’ve been in the comp,” he said.
“They’re the most complete rugby league team I’ve seen.
“I believe they have the best coach in the competition and the best player in Cameron Smith, whose game management is second to none.
“But it’s a two-horse race and how much the weight of expectation will paralyse the Storm we’ll just have to wait and see.
“Waiting on the other side is a Wayne Bennett-coached team which is always up for the fight, which makes this such a mouthwatering prospect.”
If Melbourne does beat Brisbane on Friday night at AAMI Park, it’ll still have a big task in front of it in the decider.
“The Roosters on their day can beat any team,” Geyer said.
Cronk has announced he’s leaving the Storm, where he’s been such an integral player – alongside Smith and Billy Slater – and Geyer believes that will provide a little extra motivation.
“They’d love to see Cooper Cronk finish with a premiership.”
They’d also hate to have only one trophy to show for an era of exceptional success by a once-in-a-generation group.