The allure of love and home will always haunt Melbourne Storm

Australian writer Robert Dessaix wrote: “Can there be a more important word than ‘home’ to make your own in the English language? “Love” I suppose, although I wonder sometimes if they might amount to much the same thing.”

Home and love. Not words that one readily associates with the men who play one of the most brutal and ruthless games ever devised. And yet, after the game, there they are, some cradling children in their arms, while others, like the weeping debutant Nicho Hynes, are hugging family over the fence.

Rugby league regions are referred to as ‘nurseries’ – even the vast smelting plant of western Sydney currently producing potent reinforcements for the dominant Panthers machine.

For anyone, the importance of being near family and loved ones cannot be overstated. The wise old mentor Wayne Bennett, deserted by his alcoholic father when he was a boy, has always understood the importance of young players feeling the club is their family. For many boys, the journey of fatherlessness is defined by underachievement, addiction and despair.

The Storm, who have still not found a productive development pathway for serious Victorian talent, have mastered the art of creating a home for their young imports who are mentored and room together. Without ready access to surfing beaches they soon accept and enjoy Richmond cafe life.

Schoolboy prodigy Curtis Scott shocked everyone when he decided to head to Melbourne to begin his NRL career and in just his second year the skinnyish centre claimed a premiership. But, as we now know, he had some serious issues to deal with; ones the club and his impressive bunch of roommates – Scott Drinkwater, Brodie Croft and Brandon Smith – couldn’t help him with.

Curtis Scott of the Storm reacts at full time

(Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

Their accounts this week of having to track down an out of control Scott in his car make harrowing reading.

Scott left Storm so he could be closer to his family but only went halfway, to Canberra, where things got worse for the young man. He has always stated he left his home to escape the NRL fishbowl of Sydney. He probably shouldn’t have left.

Ironically, it is also love that poses the biggest threat to the Storm when hoping to retain their star players.

Cooper Cronk, on his decision to leave for Sydney and the Roosters, stated: “I’m jealous of the guys who have their families here, who have their loved ones (and) have football in the same city. If it was a football decision, I’d be staying here (in Melbourne) for a long period of time.”

If his wife had been from Melbourne (like Billy Slater’s) he would have remained a Storm player.

Josh Addo-Carr knew by leaving he may never get to play finals or Origin again, but as he explained: “It’s something I’ve got to do, something I’ve got to do for my family.”

And now it’s Cameron Munster’s turn. The larrikin from Rockhampton who failed to nail a spot in junior representative teams and was snatched as an 18-year-old and brought to Melbourne to be mentored by Craig Bellamy.

Despite, or perhaps due to, a number of behavioural issues along the way he has developed into one of the game’s genuine superstars. He has credited love and fatherhood as a major force behind his impressive 2022 season.

(Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Unfortunately for the Storm though it will be those two factors that sound the death knell for his future at the club beyond next season: “If it was only about myself then I’d love to stay, but at the same time I’ve got a young family that I need to worry about and obviously she (partner Bianca) is from Queensland, so we need to make sure we will make the right decision.”

Of course, Storm aren’t alone. Last year, when he had to let Englishman George Williams and his pregnant wife return home early, Raiders chief executive Don Furner lamented: “We’ve been managing homesickness for 40 years.”

Still, the Storm lose a ridiculously high number of star players for a number of reasons. In a single year they lost Cooper Cronk, Jordan McLean and Tohu Harris. In 2020, it was Cameron Smith, Suli Vunivalu and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, and last season Josh Addo-Carr, Dale Finucane and Hynes. Now, they’ve just lost four of their starting forward pack.

With the exception of Phil Gould’s absurd claim of Storm’s “incremental decline” prior to their 2020 title, made worse by his appallingly biased commentary of the grand final, claims that the party is over for the Storm are understandable.

Phil Rothfield believes Munster’s farewell will see an end to the Storm dynasty.

But as we know, predictions of a decline have always been followed by a rebirth: the promotion of another young star or two in the making and the transformation of older players who had resigned themselves to life on the scrapheap of reserve grade.

Just half an hour into the 2021 season with a scintillating Melbourne transformed into an attacking juggernaut , Andrew Voss said this of the new Storm era sans Cameron Smith:”I’m going to lock this in already…  the new Big Three at Melbourne is Munster, (Ryan) Papenhuyzen and (Harry) Grant. And two of those are relative rookies.”

The loss of Munster may usher a first in the Bellamy era: the purchase of a genuine star.

When asked about a possible move, Parramatta’s Dylan Edwards joked about there being no beaches in Melbourne. But for a while now there has been a jovial 19-year-old halfback milling about among Storm’s squad and learning their ways: the man of the match in the under 19s State of Origin, Jonah Pezet.

I know what you’re thinking: who cares about the feelings of Melbourne Storm and its supporters? A club and people who have experienced an unbelievably lengthy and magical journey of finals appearances and serious aspirations for premiership glory.

Unfortunately, for those thinking those thoughts: will Storm turn Pezet, Joe Chan, Jack Howarth, Will Warbrick, Eliesa Katoa and Sua Fa’alogo into champions? Possibly.

Fortunately, for those thinking those thoughts: will they eventually leave for home and love? Probably.

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