The 2021 Melbourne Storm join the 2007 Melbourne Storm and, later, the 2021 Penrith Panthers in being the only teams to have achieved 21 wins in a NRL season. The 07 vintage is somewhat tainted by the demonstrated salary cap cheating but the most recent efforts from the Storm and Panthers are probably equally tainted by the Vlandoball era. Despite all that, they played their worst game since their 2018 grand final loss in the preliminary final and, consequently, did not win the premiership.
The Victory Lap
From the pre-season deep dive:
The roster remains one of the best in the league, as measured in projected Taylors. The Storm have the most successful coach of the last twenty years. That just doesn’t disappear over night because the best player of the NRL era retires and/or moves to the Gold Coast. The club doesn’t need the GOAT to win the premiership, the team merely needs to be very good. The Storm will be, once again, and barring a distraction like Bellamy’s future and replacement having a surprisingly damanging impact on the team’s psyche, they will be in the running.
I have declined to quote the insufferably wanky stuff about the Roman Empire. I thought I had a theme going but I should not have bothered. But, overall, I was correct. They were in the hunt and they didn’t need the GOAT, until they did.
To borrow some words from our friend at the League Eye Test:
In the end, the Storm fell 24 points short of the 2001 Eels’ total points scored record. The Eels had two extra games, so Melbourne set a new points scored per game record of 34.0, edging out other luminaries in the field including the 21 Rabbitohs and the 01 Eels (both 32.3), the 04 Bulldogs (31.7), the 21 Sea Eagles (31.0) and the 02 and 01 Knights (30.2 and 30.1 respectively).
Defensively, Melbourne were a mess. Conceding an enormous 13.2 points per game, the 2021 squad were only the sixth best in Storm history, let alone in NRL history, where they were twelfth best. Pathetic.
However, if points difference per game were a thing, the 2021 Storm would be atop that list too, scoring 20.8 more points than they conceded. The next best, that same 2001 Eels team, could only manage 16.7 and their vanquishers, the 2021 Panthers, 16.3.
The net result of all that is the Storm earned their 21 wins with 20.6 Pythagorean wins but none of that matters because they went to pieces when it did matter. Such a waste.
There’s always next year
Much like the Roosters’ summary, I fully expect the Storm to keep going until they don’t. They played a horrible preliminary final and still only lost by four points. A couple of unlucky incidents turn into lucky ones and they’re playing in the grand final.
Rather than dwell on the obvious – that the 2021 Storm have entered the conversation for best team to fail to win the premiership – I thought it was interesting that both of the Storm’s feeders had comparatively bad years.
The Tigers were awful, although not quite Capras/Jets awful but definitely Cutters awful, finishing 11th with a 4-12-1 record. The Falcons managed to make the top eight (in a fourteen team comp) and were promptly dismissed by Redcliffe, the Warriors’ feeder, in the finals.
Obviously, there was no QCup last year but the skeleton of this year’s Storm squad came up through the 2019 Falcons, who had their own record-setting season. Before that, the Tigers made the grand final in 2018 and the Falcons made the grand final in 2017. We haven’t seen such a pedestrian season from both franchises since 2015.
If the Storm conveyor belt has slowed down and if this generation isn’t on the same level as the golden generation before, then you can do the math.