Following news that gun back-rower Felise Kaufusi has become the latest Storm star to commit his future elsewhere, a question that’s been asked of the perennial powerhouse time and again is back on the minds of pundits.
Is Melbourne‘s incredible reign of dominance finally set to be extinguished?
The Dolphins on Friday announced their attainment of Kaufusi on a three-year deal from 2023, the year in which the NRL’s newest club will take to the field for the first time.
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It’s a huge early boost for the Dolphins’ roster and a massive loss for the Storm, given Kaufusi is a Test and State of Origin representative who’s become a dangerous, durable and reliable performer for Melbourne since making his NRL debut in 2015.
It must be noted that Kaufusi’s commitment to the Redcliffe-based franchise could see the Storm improve their offer for brilliant hooker Brandon Smith, who’s contracted to Melbourne for 2022 but has been granted permission to test the market.
However, regardless of whether Melbourne retain Smith – New Zealand’s Test rake – their roster will have lost more quality than gained.
Among those who have already left the Storm during this off-season are prized playmaker Nicho Hynes (Sharks), inspirational back-rower Dale Finucane (Sharks) and prolific winger Josh Addo-Carr (Bulldogs).
Melbourne’s securing of speedster Xavier Coates – who made his State of Origin debut with Queensland at the age of just 19 – has provided some compensation for their losses.
In one respect, Melbourne built into an even stronger force following the retirement of legendary captain and hooker Cameron Smith on the eve of the 2021 season.
While they failed to defend their 2020 title this year, when they fell 10-6 to eventual premiers Penrith in a preliminary final, they won 19 games in succession to match the record set by the 1975 Eastern Suburbs side.
But, strangely, the Storm may have been better off with Brandon Smith and Harry Grant sharing the hooking role given the dramatic quickening of the game, a result of the ‘six-again’ rule introduced for ruck infringements and the crackdown on high contact.
With the exception of 2010, in which Melbourne were stripped of their competition points and slapped with the wooden spoon due to rorting the salary cap, the Storm have played finals football every season since 2003.
During that 19-year period, Craig Bellamy‘s men have also had 14 top-four finishes, collected six minor premierships and won three grand finals.
But whether Melbourne remain a juggernaut in coming years – despite the losses of Hynes, Finucane, Addo-Carr, Kaufusi and potentially Smith – remains to be seen.