The NRdead – A competition murdered at the hands of two teams

Justin Olam Melbourne Storm
Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cover Art

Within just seven days, the electrifying Storm chalked up one-hundred and twenty points, whilst conceding a solitary twelve, in damaging 50-2 and 70-10 victories over Newcastle and New Zealand, respectively. Only adding to Melbourne’s trail of destruction is that in a further three matches this season, they’ve conjured up thirty points or more, including a humiliating RD4 44-0 defeat of Canterbury. An embarrassing head-to-head which witnessed 2020 Clive Churchill Medal winner Ryan Papenhuyzen cross the white-line four times!

Meanwhile, the team they edged out in the Grand Final two years ago, the mighty Penrith Panthers, are eight from eight this season and are on an absolute roll. In RD1, they smashed Manly by 22-points. They then beat St. George 28-16 before smashing Newcastle, 38-20. After that, they made easy pickings of South Sydney, 26-12, before doing the same to Canterbury, 32-12. Whilst their next three matches after that have all also been dominant victories. 40-12 over Brisbane, 36-6 over Canberra and 18-4 versus the Gold Coast!

These two teams turn their opposition into amateurs and clowns week-in, week-out is a testament to the entirety of the clubs themselves. Not only that, but the fact that they’ve achieved this velocity level of results despite losing Josh Addo-Carr and Matt Burton over the off-season makes these accomplishments all the more brilliant. To add some context, those two men alone last season were responsible for a combined forty tries, twenty try assists, and 237 run meters gained per match.

All the signs currently point to a second October date between these two sides in three seasons barring a miracle turnaround from another team. Yes, that’s how good Craig Bellamy’s troops and Ivan Cleary’s entertainers are. For a large part, they’ve decided the season is just a third of the way in. How on earth are they the blistering beauties that they’ve become?

Five-Eights and Halfbacks make for a lovely bunch.

For both the Storm and Panthers, their Five-Eighths and Halfbacks dictate their attacks to a high degree, with tasty dividends as we’ve seen so far this year. The NSW Blues combination of locally born and raised Jarome Luai and the merciless Ivan Cleary has facilitated a direct assist for twelve tries this season whilst also scoring five. Contributing strongly to that is their bond both on and off the field, meaning that they have a kinaesthetic sense of each other’s style of play. They have fun with it and, at this point, are just toying with most of the teams they face. It has already won them one Premiership, and another looks like it could be on the way.

Whilst for the Victorians, those hard-working Men are Cameron Munster and Jahrome Hughes. With Munster born in Rockhampton and Hughes a Wellington flyer, they know how to play a brutal yet captivating brand of Footy. This campaign, their never say die approach with the ball in hand, has seen them come up with nine combined tries and fifteen try assists. Melbourne is always looking for that sneaky offload, and it quite often leaves their opposing teams looking like stunned mullets. Ryan Papenhuyzen has been one of the primary benefactors of this style of play, as the Fullback has scored ten tries throughout the campaign. In contrast, the bustling Papua New Guinean Justin Olam has sliced through to the white line on six separate occasions. They have Melbourne playing an exciting style of Rugby League this season.

Craig Bellamy and Ivan Cleary are two coaches ahead of their time.

Two men who have been in and around the game of Rugby League for large parts of their lives. As good as they are, those four previously mentioned Men are at least equally matched by their coaches in the form of Craig Bellamy and Ivan Cleary, respectively. Bellamy represented the Canberra Raiders one-hundred and forty-eight times from 1982 to 1992. Whilst he’s been head coach of the Storm since 2003 and has overseen the club for the majority of the time they’ve existed, he even managed the Blues at one point. Whilst for Cleary, he’s been at the Panthers twice, led the Warriors to a Grand Final and is the magnificent Father of Nathan Cleary. As a player, he was out on the field one-hundred and eighty-six times for all Warriors, Roosters, Bears and Sea Eagles.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Part of their expert knowledge is finding value where others can’t. Because in a salary capped league, you have to be extremely careful with your player choices, and these men ensure that they get the bargain bin finds firing on all cylinders. Justin Olam could not be a more perfect example of that. Before making his debut for Melbourne in 2018, just two years earlier, he was plying his trade in the Digicel Cup for the Lae Snax Tigers in Papua New Guinea, a semi-professional Rugby League competition played annually within the country. In his first-ever NRL clash, he assisted a try for Josh Addo-Carr, and in total, he’s now bagged thirty-six tries from seventy-one appearances for the Storm.

Meanwhile, Xavier Coates is another solid pick for this conversation, as the former Bronco has ten tries through seven games this season. Just one shy of his total from the entirety of the last campaign, in which his Brisbane side finished 14th and was very close to a Wooden Spoon finishing. Bellamy is stellar at this, and that’s describing it lightly.

And whilst there are plenty more examples from the Victorian franchise, the prime picks for the ‘Men from the feet of the mountains’ is the amount of youth they/Ivan bring through. Because he has balanced out his squad well by having stars such as Luai and Cleary take centre stage, surrounded by ‘less-expensive’ and younger talents such as 21-year-old Charlie Staines, 20-years-of-age Izack Tago, 20-year-old Taylan May, Soni Luke and Spencer Leniu to name a few. It’s worked out perfectly, too, as evidenced through Penrith’s memorable Grand Final victory last season. To Staines’s credit, he has collected twenty-two tries from just thirty-two appearances and has been a gun acquisition under Ivan. He has a highly watchful eye for the talent of the future.

As I mentioned earlier, the two Grand Final participants for this campaign may already be locked and loaded. Still, their historically shattering attacks, scintillating players, ‘underpaid’ performers and high IQ coaches are among the significant reasons that they are the top two teams in all of the world Rugby League today. There is so much more that helps contribute to these two teams being the lethal weapons they are.

Toby is somebody who is a knowledgeable and passionate sports fan, but none more than the NRL. From a young age, he has been covering and supporting Australia’s greatest code. He has diplomas in both sports and business, while he loves a good laugh, some good food and travelling.

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