Munster domino could fall if Storm empire crumbles
Melbourne is a club under siege with Queensland Origin sensation Cameron Munster the next poaching target as the Storm fight to keep its golden dynasty from a full-blown collapse.
The Storm has been the NRL's best team for the past decade but it is now confronting the type of potential exodus that decimated Australian cricket in the 1980s.
Australia's national sporting team was basking in a golden age when the baggy green Big Three - Dennis Lillee, Rod Marsh and Greg Chappell - retired after a Test against Pakistan in 1984.
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In the blink of an eye 253 Tests of experience was lost, plunging Australian cricket into the doldrums before Allan Border led a revival with the 1987 World Cup triumph.
Now, in a rugby league sense, Melbourne, and indeed the NRL, have a looming problem - how to save the Storm from disintegration.
Despite its outstanding success, the Storm hasn't got the true recognition it deserves in Melbourne. It has 25,000 members and data shows Storm has the second largest fan base, behind only the Broncos, but they forever live in the gargantuan shadow cast by the AFL.
So can you imagine the challenges the Storm will confront if champion skipper Cameron Smith retires this season, as expected, and super coach Craig Bellamy walks out 12 months later?
If Melbourne's welfare is not a huge concern for the NRL, it should be. As part of their vision for a national footprint, the NRL needs the Storm to uphold the standards of excellence Bellamy has driven for 17 years.
But Brisbane's hungry pursuit of Bellamy rings alarm bells. If Melbourne's champion coach chases a fresh chapter at the Broncos in 2022, it will not only rip the cultural heart out of the Storm, but potentially precipitate a wider-scale player exodus.
Which brings us to Munster, and why the Storm's future could hinge on his retention.
The strength Melbourne has cultivated as a rugby-league outpost can also represent its weakness.
By luring most of its talent from rugby-league strongholds in Queensland and NSW, the Storm, at some point, must accept club icons, such as Bellamy and Smith, could yearn for a return to family roots.
Munster has been groomed as the transitional poster boy for Melbourne. Just turned 26, Munster is in the sweet spot of his career.
When he signed a four-year, $3.6 million extension last year until the end of 2023, it was viewed as the deal that would steer Munster towards the captaincy and keep Melbourne stable in the post-Smith era.
But Melbourne is not Melbourne without Bellamy. His Storm disciples, such as Munster, will sense a seminal shift if Bellamy joins the Broncos, who would suddenly become a magnet for Melbourne, and other NRL, players.
Born in Rockhampton, the lure of returning to Queensland is always real for Munster.
As recently as a fortnight ago, his management were contacted by prospective NRL team the Bombers, who want Munster to be their No.1 signing to spearhead the second Brisbane team ARL Commission boss Peter V'landys is keen to create.
"A guy like Cameron Munster would be the perfect poster boy," Bombers director Nick Livermore said.
"I don't know too many Queensland kids who wouldn't want to be part of a start-up second Brisbane team."
If Broncos development chiefs are doing their job, they should be going hard for Munster, knowing Bellamy's possible arrival at Red Hill in 2022 would only aid their chances of poaching the Maroons ace.
At the NRL's season launch in Sydney in March, I sat down with Munster for an interview. I asked him if he would consider returning to Queensland to head-up a second Brisbane franchise.
"It's something I wouldn't rule out," he said. "The Storm are a great club and they have done a lot for me, so there's that appeal of being a one-club man.
"But being a Queensland boy, that (going home) is always an option. It's a business at the end of the day so I will do what's best for me and my family."
For almost two decades, the Storm has felt secure in Fortress Melbourne, knowing it had the best in Bellamy, building the dynasty brick by brick.
But without Bellamy, and loyal soldiers like Munster, the super Storm empire could come crashing down.
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Originally published as Munster domino could fall if Storm empire crumbles