My theory on why the Melbourne Storm and North QLD Cowboys are struggling to get their 2018 premiership campaign’s underway?
They are suffering from 2017 Grand Final and World Cup hangovers – with a number of their star players yet to find their best form.
You can’t underestimate the emotional and physical energy required to make a GF and the additional work load required to play an additional six games in the WC.
All of their star players had a limited pre-season while some of the other clubs including the Tigers, the Knights and the Titans were nearly unaffected and have started their season’s strongly.
Melbourne had eight current players involved including Billy Slater, Will Chambers, Cameron Munster, Felise Kaufusi and Cameron Smith (Kangaroos), Kenny Bromwich and Nelson Asofa Solomona (NZ) and Suliasu Vinivalu (Fiji) while the Cowboys had Michael Morgan, Jordan Maclean (Kangaroos), Jason Taumalolo (Tonga) and Te Maire Martin (NZ) representing their club.
Of course, the other key factor for Melbourne is the departure of Cooper Cronk to the Roosters and for the Cowboys - the return from long term injuries by Jonathon Thurston and Matt Scott has played its part.
Unfortunately, there is no easy way around winning games in the NRL and the effort required to win games in enormous.
Managing the work load at training and in games is multi-faceted these days and it will be critical for both of these clubs to gain some momentum before the next level of representative footy – State of Origin - takes its toll.
This applies especially to the Cowboys’ older players – Thurston (who has retired from rep footy) and Matt Scott while Melbourne’s Billy Slater (who may be in his last season) and their captain Cam Smith - who has not missed many games at any level in the last three years – considers his future in 2019.
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While talking about JT - the stinging criticism by Greg Alexander that he may have played “one season too many” will be ringing in his ears as he takes the field at home against the Bulldogs on Saturday night.
There is no question it has taken him some time to regain his confidence – but I wouldn’t be too hasty in writing off one of the game’s great players – in his final season.
I am expecting the return of Lachlan Coote at fullback to assist JT in running their attack along with Michael Morgan who has had a quiet return to the year – which could spell trouble for the Bulldogs who are struggling to score points this year.
And Melb have dropped their starting halfback Brody Croft for their important home against the Knights who ironically scored three tries against them last year.
The Storm have not lost three games in a row since 2004 and face a Knights team that showed they are capable of defending their tryline for long periods against the Broncos last week.
The Knights should follow the lead of the Tigers’ impressive performance against the Premiers last week – who were fantastic in kick chase on the Storm’s dangerous back three and they put tremendous inside pressure on their ball players – forcing Melb into an uncharacteristic number of handling errors.
And tonight kicks off with one of the great long time rivalries when the Roosters take on the Rabbitohs.
The Rabbitohs finished strongly against the Dragons last week and they will need a dominant display (and first class kicking game) from their halfback Adam Reynolds if they are any chance of an upset as he comes up against one of the game’s premier halfbacks in Cooper Cronk who was instrumental in the Roosters win over the Sharks last week.
Roosters, Storm, Dragons, Warriors, Cowboys, Raiders, Panthers, Sea-Eagles.