The Storm are aiming to be the first back-to-back premiers since the Broncos in 1993.
The Storm are aiming to be the first back-to-back premiers since the Broncos in 1993.

Back-to-back titles fitting for Storm’s founders

IT would be no mere coincidence if Melbourne were to become the first team since the great Brisbane sides of 1992-93 to win back-to-back NRL titles. Because as a club the Storm were practically built by the Broncos of the early 90s both on and off the field.

The first NRL franchise to be opened in the fully professional era and free from the scars of the Super League war, Melbourne were made for success from their opening days in 1998.

With Broncos founding father John Ribot as boss, two of Brisbane's back-to-back premiership winners in Chris Johns and Glenn Lazarus were brought down as chief executive and the Storm's first captain.

"Nearly everything in the club was built around what the Broncos were about," Johns said this week.

"The biggest lesson we got from the Broncos was we had to build a sense of club. And people that wanted to be about the club.

"The Broncos were the first to really create an atmosphere as a club where people wanted to play for less money.

"Every player we recruited (to Melbourne) had to come for the same reason.

"They wanted to improve and share in success. We couldn't lure them with money or we'd be starting off on crumbling foundations."

Storm past and present: Glenn Lazarus with Cameron Smith. (Picture: Josh Woning)
Storm past and present: Glenn Lazarus with Cameron Smith. (Picture: Josh Woning)

Crucial in that too was the recruitment of Chris Anderson as coach - a man synonymous with the family culture at Canterbury - and Lazarus as leader of a side desperate to be pioneers for rugby league in Melbourne.

By their second year, and with a side mostly made up of players left on the outer by the collapses of the Hunter Mariners and Western Reds, the Storm had their first premiership.

"We became a family and a very close family," foundation player Scott Hill said.

"That's what the Storm still is now.

"That's the greatest thing about being in Melbourne, we're away from media, we have our own selves to work with and we become good mates and it becomes a big family.

"There is no other club that can do that in Australia. Even Brisbane or Townsville, or any club in Sydney."

Melbourne made the finals again in 2000 but it wasn't until Craig Bellamy - another product of Wayne Bennett and Brisbane's coaching system - arrived that things went to another gear.

"He came in and grabbed the senior group we had who were all good leaders and workers and took it to another level. His work ethic rubbed off on everyone," Hill said.

"That developed good leaders. And it gave time for guys like Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Greg Inglis to develop into the true leaders they are.

"That club now is a place people go to become good leaders. They know how to take responsibility of their own actions."

Still armed with the same recruitment strategy as Johns in the early days, Bellamy has continued to provide the same environment and framework at the club.

For all their success Melbourne have rarely paid top dollar to recruit a big name to the club, having instead made the most of those who slipped through the net at other clubs as juniors - including the game's grandest big-three combination of Smith, Slater and Cronk.

Craig Bellamy, who spent time at the Broncos, has created a winning culture at the Storm. (Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
Craig Bellamy, who spent time at the Broncos, has created a winning culture at the Storm. (Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

"It's a culture that everyone supports each other and supports the club," Johns, who left the Storm in 2002 but still watches on closely, said.

"I think that's stood the test of time where everyone has a passion for the club and not their bank account."

Melbourne's methods from those early foundations in both the front and back office are well proven, with Sunday's decider against the Roosters being their third trip to a grand final in as many years despite the salary cap scandal that engulfed them at the end of last decade.

Outside of rugby league and under new owner Bart Campbell, the Storm's extension into the Super Netball League has seen the Sunshine Coast Lightning win back-to- back titles in their opening two seasons.

"You can't half tell that Melbourne Storm culture is a success," Hill, who now lives in Noosa, said.

"All owned by the one company and driven by the one desire and one belief or philosophy.

"They had to relocate everyone there (to the Sunshine Coast), so it's very similar methods and patterns. It's a pretty amazing club to be founded."

And after dominating the NRL-era, Sunday's grand final and the chance to go back-to-back stands as the final frontier.

Not only to send retiring champion fullback Billy Slater out a winner against the Roosters, but to replicate the feats of Johns and Lazarus at Brisbane some 25 years ago and to become the first team to defend their title in a unified competition.

"It was a lot easier to do that back then than it is today," Johns said.

"It is incredibly hard now. It's so much more competitive. This year there were four or five clubs who could have won it."