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Jeff Dickinson-Fox looks back at the season that saw Melbourne Storm crowned NRL premiers.
This season from the Storm was one of the most dominant in recent NRL history. They claimed the minor premiership and JJ Giltinan Shield with 20 wins, four losses, a 297 points differential, ranked first for points scored and first for least points conceded.
The success of 2017 somewhat numbs the pain from falling short at last year's grand final and it marks the end of the Storm's original big three combination as Cooper Cronk leaves Cameron Smith and Billy Slater for the Sydney Roosters. Melbourne's spine (one, six, seven and nine) was so far ahead of their rivals that all four were used for the Queensland Maroons to convincingly win the State of Origin decider.
Full-time at the 2016 NRL grand final. The 14-12 loss cut deep, became an immediate source of motivation and sharpened the focus of the players and football department.
Billy Slater's return to fullback and Cameron Munster's positional change to five-eighth. With almost two years between NRL matches Slater returned to a remarkably high fitness level. It didn't take him half a season to get back to his best, after a few weeks the rust had come off his game and he restarted his ascendency over the NRL. Munster had to learn how to play a new position in the preseason and it proved to be easy forming new combinations with Slater, Smith and Cronk.
Their grand final preparation must have improved from a year ago. It's easy to overlook how many inexperienced young players the Storm has used in the last two years. They even got an edge on the Cowboys the day before the grand final as the Storm booked ANZ Stadium for their captain's run and North Queensland couldn't get in because of the entertainment rehearsals.
Not applicable. This was a near perfect season. They only lost four times all season, with two of those losses during the State of Origin period. If you want to nit-pick, what Craig Bellamy would be doing, an improved record during the Origin period would be a goal for 2018. The two losses were against the Roosters and Eels, both top four teams.
Cameron Smith: The Melbourne, Queensland and Australian captain continues his reign at the top of rugby league. The achievements are unrivalled. In 2017 Smith won his second Dally M player of the year award, passed Darren Lockyer for most NRL games played, became the first forward to score 2000 points and the first player to play more than 40 State of Origin matches. His impact on team success makes him immortal worthy and at 34-years-old there's no sign of slowing down.
Felise Kaufusi: The workload Kaufusi handled in 2017 was stunning. He did not play in the 2016 grand final. During that season he was playing off the bench, named 18th man for the Queensland Maroons before game three, and fell out of the rotation at the end of the year. The departure of Kevin Proctor opened the starting spot in the second-row which Kaufusi filled for every match in 2017, usually playing 80 minutes. His talented brother, Patrick, has left the Cowboys and joins the Storm on a two-year deal.
Suliasi Vunivalu: It's impossible to say who is the better winger between Josh Addo-Carr and Vunivalu, but Vunivalu has been consistently outstanding for two seasons. He does everything from awkwardly twisting his body for tries, rising high to score from and defuse bombs, bend the defensive line and take off feet first into the defensive line. Try and think of a winger that's dominated more than Vunivalu has at his position in their first couple of NRL seasons.
Melbourne was strong in all areas. Arguably the best team on paper this decade. If you're creating a game plan to beat the Storm, there are no weaknesses to exploit. They can score points from anywhere and are ruthless defensively.
Melbourne's last season in the U20s ended at 13th on the ladder with nine wins and 15 losses. Melbourne were successful only once in the ten season history of the NYC, winning the then-Toyota Cup Grand Final in 2009.
Sunshine Coast Falcons: 4th on the ladder and lost the grand final 12-10 to the Papua New Guinea Hunters
Easts Tigers: 3rd on the ladder and knocked out in the semifinals 26-22 by the Sunshine Coast Falcons
They're probably a good chance of making the top eight again next year. The back-to-back minor premiers are probably a great chance of finishing top two again next season. Despite the loss of Cronk, Tohu Harris and Jordan McLean neither talent or experience are in short supply.
Typically the Storm lose matches around the Origin period, but with the fixture changes next season helping Origin players with their club availability it benefits Melbourne. New players Sam Kasiano and Patrick Kaufusi address the forward pack depth and there are players waiting for their chance such as Ryley Jacks, Jahrome Hughes and Brodie Croft that have shown they are first grade quality.
Craig Bellamy comes back for another season and football manager Frank Ponissi signed a long term contract extension. Consistency is what they're known for and we should see more of it in 2018.