Storm revamp paves way for shock half switch
RUGBY LEAGUE: And then there were two. The Big Three is no more as life after Cooper Cronk becomes a reality.
So the big question is can Melbourne continue their impressive run and competitive edge with a fresh face at halfback?
The Storm have been strategic in preparing for life after Cronk with several emerging talents like Brodie Croft, Jahrome Hughes, Scott Drinkwater, Ryley Jacks and Billy Walters joining their roster.
With a number of contenders for the job of partnering Cameron Munster, Craig Bellamy is exploring the idea of rotating the role.
"(A rotation system) is something we are looking at. We will see how it unfolds," Bellamy said last month.
"It is very early in the piece for us to make concrete plans but I am thinking that is more than likely the way we go about it. That is one way we can get through it.
"Where we are standing now, we are probably thinking that Brodie Croft is a frontrunner. But Brodie has only played three or four games in first grade.
"Those games were at halfback but to expect him to play the whole season ... I don't know whether that is realistic, to be quite honest."
While there's been a bit of turnover in their roster, they've done well to plug the holes.
Veteran backrower Ryan Hoffman returns to the club for a swan song season and Billy Slater signed on for another 12 months.
Sure, the loss of Cronk and Tohu Harris are significant ones but they have the talent to fill the void.
Over the next month, we will be previewing your team's best 17.
As always, there will be some contentious decisions - and some unlucky omissions.
NB: These line-ups don't take into account current injuries (unless they're season ending) or suspensions.
The forward pack - While they lost Jordan McLean to North Queensland, the addition of a trim Sam Kasiano goes a long way to helping fill that void.
Jesse Bromwich and Nelson Asofa-Solomona recently recommitted to the club long-term, while Tim Glasby has plenty to play for as he's off-contract in 2018.
With a strong pack this season and Cameron Smith still pulling the strings from hooker, the Storm will go a long way to defend their premiership.
The No.7 jersey - Brodie Croft is tipped to start the year in that role but there are still question marks over his defence.
At 83kg, there's no doubting his ability with the ball in hand but the Storm seldom carry a weak link in their chain of defence.
While Croft has five games to his name, 25-year-old half Ryley Jacks isn't out of the picture either.
He finished the year with 12 games to his name and was often the preferred option in the side when one of the halves was unavailable.
Jacks, 94kg, is a strong defender and could well get the jump on Croft to start the year. Another option to keep an eye on throughout the season is a positional switch from hooker Cameron Smith. He started his career as a halfback and has filled the void on occasion.
THE RISING STAR
Brandon Smith - We had a glimpse of him last season before injury cut his season short and the 21-year-old hooker has the makings of something special. Having joined the Storm from North Queensland in 2017 after graduating from the NYC, Smith was named in New Zealand's 20-man Test team for the ANZAC Test even before making his first grade debut. With Slade Griffin joining the Knights, expect to see the Junior Kiwi's No.9 get plenty of more experience as he's groomed to succeed Cameron Smith. So highly Smith is regarded, the club extended his contract until the end of the 2022 season.
IT'S A BIG YEAR FOR ...
Brodie Croft - He's the man tasked with starting the season in the coveted No.7 jersey. A Junior Kangaroos and Queensland 20s Origin representative, Croft has long been touted for big things. In his handful of appearances in the top grade, he's shown he can mix it at the top level and 2018 is the year where the playmaker has to consistently deliver on that promise.
THE BEST 17
1. Billy Slater
2. Suliasi Vunivalu
3. Will Chambers
4. Curtis Scott
5. Josh Addo-Carr
6. Cameron Munster
7. Brodie Croft
8. Jesse Bromwich
9. Cameron Smith
10. Tim Glasby
11. Felise Kaufusi
12. Ryan Hoffman
13. Dale Finucane
14. Kenny Bromwich
15. Nelson Asofa-Solomona
16. Sam Kasiano
17. Christian Welch
OTHERS: Patrick Kaufusi, Cheyse Blair, Justin Olam, Jahrome Hughes, Ryley Jacks, Ryan Papenhuyzen, Sandor Earl, Scott Drinkwater, Young Tonumaipea, Brandon Smith, Joe Stimson, Tui Kamikamica