They’ve been hit by injury and were widely written off, but Melbourne Storm are in a familiar position heading into the State of Origin period.
In fact, coach Craig Bellamy believes the Storm may be in better shape than normal as they enter the interstate series in second place on the NRL table.
Melbourne’s 18-6 victory over Parramatta on Monday night thrust the Storm above Brisbane and North Queensland to level on competition points with table-topping Cronulla, leaving Bellamy confident of yet another title tilt.
“I can’t remember having this many points going into that first Origin break,” said the veteran coach.
“We probably have, but the boys have done a great job.
“Our record’s nine and two now and, as I keep saying each week, the forwards have been magnificent for us this year.
“We’ve had some injuries in our outside backs, as everyone knows, but the guys who have come in there have always done a great job for us.
“We’ve got guys playing out of position but they just turn up and work real hard and play with a little bit of aggression, a bit of urgency, and that’s all you can ask from them.”
Not counting 2010 when they were playing for zero competition points after breaching the salary cap, only twice in the past decade have the Storm not been in the top four entering the Origin period.
But nine wins pre-Origin is as good as it’s ever been in the Storm’s golden era.
Once again the Storm will be without halfback Cooper Cronk and hooker and captain Cameron Smith for much of the next eight weeks.
Strictly speaking they were missing five players to Origin in 2015, but injuries to champion fullback Billy Slater and centre Will Chambers and Ryan Hoffman’s defection to the Warriors have given the Storm an unusually low representation this year.
Smith was delighted to be leaving the Storm in a strong position as he prepares to lead Queensland once again in the Origin cauldron.
“There’s times where you need to represent your state or your country but first and foremost your focus needs to be on your club,” Smith said.
“So it’s nice to be able to get a win and move onto your next game now.”
The Storm received another boost on Tuesday when exciting young fullback Cameron Munster was cleared of any structural damage to his elbow and he is expected to be fit for the side’s next game on Saturday week against Penrith.
The 21-year-old hyper-extended his elbow, but football manager Frank Ponissi said scans showed only a “mild sprain”.
CALM BEFORE THE STORM – MELBOURNE’S PRE-ORIGIN POSITION ON NRL LADDER SINCE 2006
2016: Rd 11: (2nd, 9 wins, 2 losses)
2015: Rd 11(1st, 7-3)
2014: Rd 11 (5th, 6-4)
2013: Rd 12 (2nd, 8-2-1)
2012: Rd 11 (1st, 9-1)
2011: Rd 11(2nd, 7-3)
*2010: Rd 11 (last, 7-3)
2009: Rd 12 (6th, 6-4-1)
2008: Rd 10 (4th, 6-3)
2007: Rd 10 (2nd, 9-1)
2006: Rd 10 (1st, 7-2)