Year after year, rugby league pundits are ready to draw a line through Melbourne, and year after year, the always regenerating Storm squad will make them look dumb.
Greg Inglis, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk class players leave and the Victorian club somehow finds guys who plug the holes and then become stars themselves.
Now look at these three positions – center left, full-back, and half-back.
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Justin Olam, Ryan Papenhuyzen and Jahrome Hughes are three of the best-improved players in the competition this year and will also be in the grand final against Penrith on Sunday.
So how can Melbourne keep ordinary players turning into real NRL elites?
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Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy and soccer director Frank Ponissi are known not to go into market planning to spend a lot of money and bring an established star to Victoria.
The club is looking for good people rather than good footballers. And then they push them to reach their absolute potential.
For this reason, the couple conducts a “coffee test” with each potential recruit before putting an offer on the table.
Bellamy and Ponissi insist on sitting over the coffee table and looking them in the eye to see what kind of person it is.
“If you had to narrow it down to two things, it would be someone who is willing to work really hard in everything they do, both in the gym and outside, and who is really into what we are about” Ponissi told NRL. com of the recruiting philosophy in 2017.
“All other flaws – well, we can fix them.
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“Whether it is physical or football deficiencies … if you are willing to work hard and get involved with what this organization is about, you have a chance to become a better player.”
Josh Addo-Carr is a living example of the small change in attitude a player typically experiences when moving to Melbourne.
In 2016, the Foxx scored attempts for Wests Tigers, and after each, it ran an elaborate celebration.
Most of the time, his celebration was a tribute to family members in prison, and nobody at Concord disapproved of him for it, and fans talked about it.
But when he got to the storm the following year, one of the coaches quickly pulled him aside and told him this is not what they do at this club … the team celebrates a try as one rather than the scorer running to the crowd or the next camera.
It’s a small rule, but an allusion to the elite culture that is anchored in the four walls.
“I think (Bellamy) took it as selfish and I think Storm is all about the team,” Addo-Carr said in a 2017 interview.
“I really took it on board and it made me a better person and a better player.”
THE CURRENT HARVEST
The wrecking ball center from Papua New Guinea had many rough edges when it arrived in the southern capital.
But the Melbourne system has turned him into a diamond and he is close to the grand NRL final.
26-year-old Olam didn’t really get into first class until the middle of last year, but now he’s a lock on the left.
Bellamy was recently asked about the breakout star after tearing Parramatta apart in the qualifying finals.
“Justin, I think he’s been with us for three years. I guess nobody saw NRL in Justin for the first 12 or 18 months, ”Bellamy said.
“But suddenly what he’s learned and the hard work he’s put into getting those things into his game, he blossomed very quickly.
“It looked like it was going to take forever, or it wasn’t entirely honest. Then suddenly everything clicked because he was just keeping his head down and working really hard.
“From what I have seen and I haven’t seen all the games, but it’s probably going as well as most centers in the game at the moment.
“He is unique with his skills. He has this squat build and is strong, nothing scares him. He’d run into a wall or jump off a cliff if he had to, but that’s what we really like when we have him on our team. ”
He was a talented junior, but almost certainly another player to slip through the cracks of the NRL system.
Hughes made his NRL debut for Gold Coast when he was only 18 in 2013, but it would be three years before he made his next major league game.
Following his only Cowboys appearance in 2016, Hughes was caught by the storm and taken south despite undergoing back surgery.
He only played 15 games in his first two seasons with the Storm, but in 2019 he was given the fullback role vacant by Billy Slater.
When Brodie Croft was sent packing late last year, the club needed a new halfback and Bellamy entrusted Hughes with the famous jumper Cooper Cronk had left behind.
Hughes is hands down one of the best improved players in the competition in 2020. He was the man of the game last week when Melbourne rolled Canberra in the pre-finals.
Hughes admitted this week that his work ethic and attitude were not up to date until he arrived in Melbourne and saw players like Cronk preparing.
“I didn’t want to work hard when I was younger and just thought the clubs would re-sign me,” Hughes said in an interview with NRL.com.
“When Cooper was down there when he wasn’t right, he kept doing it until he got it right during training. He was a perfectionist.
“I’m not saying that I am like this yet, but I want to be like that. That’s why he had such a great career just the way he did the little things. ”
He was identified as a talent at a young age, largely thanks to his rapid pace.
So it’s not fair to call him a drop-off as such, but there’s no doubt Melbourne landed this star defender for a bargain.
Papaenhuyzen was stuck behind James Tedesco in the fullback ranks at West Tigers and, true to Tiger’s form, lost both of them.
The storm took advantage of Blockade No. 1 at Concord and brought Papenhuyzen to Victoria to take over the Springer left behind by Billy Slater.
But two years ago there came a point where it looked like Papenhuyzen would be left standing in the cold again thanks to a blockade from full-backs.
“There was talk of letting him go (2018),” Storm recruiting chief Paul Bunn told Courier Mail this week.
“We ideally never wanted to sell him, but we had a number of defenders at the time and we were weighing things up. His agent didn’t want him to let go because he was convinced that Paps would be the long-term defender.
“At that time we had four options. Billy Slater was our full-back, then there was Cameron Munster who wanted to play one, Jahrome Hughes and we even had Scott Drinkwater.
“Dad was a little behind all of them, so damn it, if we knew what we were going to do.”
It took a couple of years, but Papenhuyzen was eventually entrusted with the famous No. 1 jumper as Hughes and Munster cut in half and Drinkwater left the club to join North Queensland.
He is now considered one of the best young custodians in the game and is likely second to Tedesco in the NSW full-back position.
Proof and Exceptions to the Rule
Melbourne’s claim that they never make big bucks for an established player is true, and you only need to check out this week’s Grand Final team to see it.
Of the 17 players scheduled to face Penrith on Sunday, only three have played NRL football for another club.
Dale Finucane made 66 Canterbury appearances in three seasons before joining the Storm in 2015 and he’s the only real exception to that rule.
Brenko Lee played 15 games in Canberra, 18 in Canterbury and 20 in Gold Coast before moving to Melbourne in the middle of this year.
Josh Addo-Carr made nine appearances at Wests Tigers but was brought south at a young age and established himself as a star in purple.
The other 14 teammates have played all of their NRL football in the storm and only the storm.
The system is solid and has led the club to another season winner.
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