Profile: Melbourne Storm (1997-)


Of course, there is just one team that is never, ever happy to see the Eels win. Since the 2009 salary cap scandal, Melbourne and Parra have been mortal enemies, but it goes deeper than that – there’s a sense, in the general NRL imagination, that Melbourne are more or less responsible for the decline in League that the Eels seem to typify. Add to that the fact that the Storm are more or less synonymous with the Maroons and it’s not hard to see why they tend to alienate most of New South Wales, even without their reputation for dirty tactics that strain the definition of proper football, such as importing MMA positions into their play to pin down opposing players, which are not always readily apparent to a camera or referee. Out of all the NRL venues, then, AAMI Park has the biggest fortress mentality – bigger than even Brookvale Oval – while the Storm’s status as outliers is only exacerbated by their tendency to brand themselves as conspicuously separate from the rest of League. Most recently, their “Not Your Regular Team” marketing strategy – a series of interviews, short films and advertisements – have set out craft the team into an odd kind of boutique grassroots franchise, exclusive and demotic all at once, using typography, colour and marketing designs that seem to almost sequester them to a different sporting League altogether. Sometimes I’ve wondered if there’s some resemblance to the Roosters in that respect, but at the end of the day I don’t think that Melbourne really aspire to the hallowed realm of Union in the same way as the Bondi Boys. Instead, it’s more like they’re trying to take the regional flavour that Sydney teams enjoy and apply it to a whole city – in effect, they’re a city wide team, even a state-wide team, but they market themselves as a local team, redirecting all Melbourne’s energy as a boutique tourist venue into one big backyard or local footy field. Again, that makes for a very natural crossover with Origin, since part of the pleasure of watching the Maroons lies in seeing how the biggest, most sprawling state in the NRL – and even more sprawling in the way that it manages to include such QLD questionables as G.I., born and bred in Kempsie – into a squad that somehow manages to be even more compact and succinct than that of NSW. And yet, for all that, there’s something romantic about the threesome of Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk, not least because Smith and Slater are exactly the same age, born on the same day. At its finest, League isn’t a sport of plosive physical combat so much as almost super-human synergy – as Matt Cleary once said about SBW, “hands like bionic tentacles” – and Smith, Slater and Cronk are one of those rarest of Fullback-Halfback-Hooker threesomes that really do feel like a single bionic unit when they’re out on the field, syncing so seamlessly that you can hardly distinguish who’s doing what. There’s something compelling about that, a homosocial communion that perhaps explains why these three have tended to receive the biggest cult following among gay NRL supporters, a following that’s only been exacerbated by Cronk’s reticence, in the past, to speak openly or directly about his own sexuality. Whatever you think of the three players personally – and I have to admit I find Smith and Slater pretty hard to take at times – there’s no more defly choreographed spectacle in NRL than seeing them work at their peak, as agonising as it is exhilarating to a Blues supporter to admit it.

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