When the dean of this generation of fullbacks, Billy Slater, went down with injury midway through the 2015 season, it was taken as a symbol of the Storm’s own clock winding down. The great Melbourne dynasty (or what passes for one in the modern NRL), with its brain-trust of Slater, Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and coach Craig Bellamy, was not ageless.
But what the Storm have proven to be during this heyday is maddeningly functional. No other team has proven as adept at finding players, and then building them up. When Slater went down, in came Cameron Munster – and not only did Melbourne keep humming along, but the talented young Queenslander pointed the way to a post-Slater future. The rest of the league surely groaned.
Slater’s return was meant to push Munster somewhere else in the backline, but after Billy was injured again in the very first round, Munster was once again the man at the back. It had been a disrupted start to the year for Munster, punctuated by the 12-month rep footy ban for breaking curfew at a camp for emerging Maroons.
It was most un-Storm-like behaviour. The reproach, however, became a teachable moment for Munster. “It’s been in the back of my mind to play well this year and make amends for it,” Munster told a Queensland newspaper. “I had a good chat with Cam Smith and he said, ‘Cameron, I’m disappointed in what you’ve done.’”
Properly motivated, Munster has excelled for his club, which he re-signed with through to 2019. Contrary to predictions of decline, the Storm enters these finals looking as well as they have for the last couple of years. The way Smith and Cronk guide them around the field remains unequalled, but they also have a power trio at the back of Munster, Marika Koroibete and Suliasi Vunivalu to give them finishing touch.