NRL news 2023: Grisly flogging at hands of Penrith Panthers delivers final straw for Melbourne Storm stalwart

After serving the club magnificently for over a decade, Melbourne’s beloved Big Four model has now grown incompatible with egalitarian ideals and the three big-bopper rotation.

And if the club is serious about remaining a premiership force, it must abandon its classist, top-heavy blueprint to compete with Penrith and Brisbane and anyone else with better wealth spread.

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Last night’s 38-4 trouncing to the Panthers not only ended the Storm’s season in a whimper, it confirmed Craig Bellamy’s problems are rising quicker than the level of his own spit in the coach’s box.

Whether it was a sloppy backline flunking the last pass or an overcooked pack getting steamrolled by James Fisher-Harris and company, the result again exposed a Storm squad full of holes that no longer presents sleepless nights for top-four opposition.

And it’s all because the spine has thicker wallets than the rest.

A stalwart since the post-cap scandal clean-out, Melbourne have long relied on stacking their playmaking positions and hoping for the best with a supporting cast almost pixelated in its anonymity.

This served them famously under the Cameron Smith/Billy Slater/Cooper Cronk triumvirate – resulting in titles in 2012 and 2017 – but is now only producing the shame of routine mid-finals exits.

Take nothing away from Cam Munster, Harry Grant, Jahrome Hughes and Ryan Papenhuyzen (when available), but these guys are mere mortals who need more than Nelson Asofa-Solomona clearing land before them.

Yep, it’s in the middle of the park where Melbourne’s skewed payroll is felt most acutely, with its one-man pack a far cry from the days when it was harder to fold than a fitted sheet.

After releasing Felise Kaufusi and a range of Bromwiches to Redcliffe in the pre-season, 2023 has seen the Storm middle left dramatically short of the star power once supplied by names like Bryan Norrie and Richie Fa’aoso.

Whether due to the waning of Bellamy’s magic or the standard of labour hire, names like Christian Welch, Josh King and Elise Katoa are not delivering the famous Storm intimidation of years past, while lesser-light names like Alex McDonald, Bronson Garlick and Tariq ‘Dim’ Sims whet more appetites than dacks.

Thankfully though, the solution for Melbourne is pretty straightforward.

All the club needs to do is simply keep their gun players and acquire more gun players – even though we know how this has ended in the past.

For those unaware, prior to the Big Four was the Big Seventeen, a plan which was followed by a Big Smack, a Big Fine and two Big Red Lines.

One of the grimmest days in the game, the Storm salary cap scandal of 2010 exposed a payroll at Melbourne where everyone was paid like Smith but declared like Jeff Lima.

After the club was forced to shed its Aladdin’s Cave of unlawful treasures, it has since stuck with a lobster spine and Weet-Bix forwards, if only to sportswash its brand back to health on the back of white-bread journeymen.

But while this held the joint together for a decade, the time has come for the club to abandon its old friend or suffer the ignominy of impotent top four finishes, kinda like a less pitied version of Parramatta.

– Dane Eldridge is a warped cynic yearning for the glory days of rugby league, a time when the sponges were magic and the Mondays were mad.

He’s never strapped on a boot in his life, and as such, should be taken with a grain of salt.

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