What can the NZ Warriors learn from the Melbourne Storm?

All Black Ngani Laumape is congratulated by his former Warriors team-mates, left to right, Sam Tomkins, Shaun Johnson ...
HANNAH PETERS/GETTY IMAGES.

All Black Ngani Laumape is congratulated by his former Warriors team-mates, left to right, Sam Tomkins, Shaun Johnson and Konrad Hurrell.

It's said that Ngani Laumape got a bit of a fright when he arrived at the Hurricanes.

Now an All Black, Laumape first developed an understanding of the demands of professional sport while at the New Zealand Warriors. What he found the better Hurricanes' players were up to came as a surprise to him, though.

New team-mates such as Dane Coles, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Ardie Savea and Victor Vito were always training, always doing extras. Coles and Perenara would go to the extent of demanding players observe their days off, only to then sneak in for solo conditioning or skills sessions.

Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy, right, with Ryan Hinchcliffe, one of his all-time favourite players.
ROBERT PREZIOSO/GETTY IMAGES.

Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy, right, with Ryan Hinchcliffe, one of his all-time favourite players.

Laumape got the concept of people having to work on their deficiencies, but these guys were among Super Rugby's best performers. Why would they have to be working that hard? If anyone was entitled to cut the odd corner, it was them.

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Wing Josh Addo-Carr is the latest player to find their career transformed by signing for the Storm.
QUINN ROONEY/GETTY IMAGES.

Wing Josh Addo-Carr is the latest player to find their career transformed by signing for the Storm.

The Hurricanes went on to win the title that year, although not with much help from Laumape. 

The second five-eighth copped the hint and reported for 2017 duty in much-improved shape. He went on to start in every match, earning All Blacks selection along the way.

At season's end Laumape was named Hurricanes' player of the year.

The purpose of this exercise is to look at what the Melbourne Storm do that consistently yields them better NRL results than Laumape's old team. The Warriors regularly boast a squad with more talent than most, yet have an alarming habit of finishing among the competition's stragglers.

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Storm coach Craig Bellamy insists there's no secret to the side's sustained success.

"You build your foundation on having physically and mentally tough players and if you've got that you're going to be a competitive team. Our pre-season is pretty torrid and I think that gives us an advantage," Bellamy told Australian media at the start of this year.

"Our mentality is that you get through our pre-season, it doesn't matter what they throw at you through the season, on or off the field, you're going to be able to handle it. We make our pre-season difficult and challenging enough so that by the time we get to round one, we know that we're going to be hard to beat if we play to our potential."

The Storm have some star players and game drivers. That certainly helps. But it's worth remembering that the club's "big three" of Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk arrived as teenagers. 

That's rather different to what the Warriors have done in recent times, in recruiting players such as Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Kieran Foran and Issac Luke. They might play the same positions as the Storm trio, but were all established stars.

The Storm have enjoyed great success developing and spotting young players. Their late recruitment officer Darren Bell, for instance, was a regular visitor to New Zealand and players such as Jesse Bromwich, Sika Manu, Matt Duffie, Tohu Harris and Nelson Asofa-Solomona were the products of his work here.

Bellamy's other great ability has been to turn journeyman or unheralded players into quality first-graders. Former Wests Tigers wing Josh Addo-Carr is the latest in a long line of men Bellamy has been rewarded for giving a chance to.

Former utility forward Ryan Hinchcliffe is said to be among the coach's all-time favourites. Hinchcliffe wasn't a great physical specimen, didn't perform any amazing feats or possess a great array of skills, but he was the epitome of what Bellamy looks for in a player.

"Basically he said his type of player is mentally strong. But moreover he's consistent," Storm football director Frank Ponissi said of the footballers Bellamy favours.

"Even if he's not the best player in the competition or the best player in his position, if his best is at a certain level he certainly doesn't expect that player to be the best he can every single week. But he loves a player where their best and their worst is not much different."

Again, Smith, Slater and Cronk might be acclaimed players now, but their beginnings at the Storm were humble. None are giants or brutes but have worked hard, prepared well and learned.

There's obviously more to the Storm model than that, but it's amazing what can happen when you give something your very best effort.

Warriors coach Stephen Kearney knows all this. Once - along with halfback Stacey Jones - one of the Warriors' most valuable players, Kearney left for the Storm after the 1998 season and won a grand final with them the following year.

Respected for his leadership and work ethic in his playing days, Kearney's eventual reward was a spot on Bellamy's coaching staff. 

Kearney will be as aware as anyone that - when you go through the Warriors' roster - there is a real shortage of players who would fit Bellamy's bill. Whether the odd player can transform themselves through hard work and will power remains to be seen, but the suspicion remains that the Warriors are a team with talent and no heart.

Respected television commentator - and Penrith Panthers general manager - Phil Gould doesn't have great faith in the club. Asked to offer a positive and negative about the Warriors this week, Gould could only provide the latter.

"Terrible," Gould said of the club.

"There's something wrong over there, I don't know what it is. It can't always be the coach.

"Since Ivan Cleary took them to a grand final in 2011 they've now had four coaches and we keep getting the same stuff out of them, the same rubbish. It should be a juggernaut but something just keeps going wrong over there and, looking forward, I don't know that it's going to be any better next season."

 - Stuff

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