CAMERON Smith is standing in the middle of AAMI Park, trying to explain a premiership defence that fell a fortnight short.
“It wasn’t enough right from the start,” the Australia captain says with a shake of the head. “It’s pretty much been the story of the second half of our season, really.
“…just giving teams head starts and you can’t do that this time of year, in particular.
“You could look at all different things throughout the season. In particular, State of Origin takes its toll – but it takes its toll on every team, not just ust.
“But we seemed to struggle a bit more than usual, than in past years. We still had the team to win it.”
The loss to Newcastle on September 21 was an upset; the Knights first win in the Victorian capital for nine years. And despite what Smith says, there had been no repeat of the previous season’s five consecutive losses around the Origin series.
The Storm were the first side in premiership history to run up 60 points against two sides in the same season.
But there were a couple of heavy defeats too; defeats which it’s hard to imagine recent Storm sides incurring, like 22-4 to Wests Tigers and 39-0 to Canterbury.
After returning from the World Club Challenge victory over Leeds, the Storm were faced with a rigorous schedule. But they managed early wins over St George Illawarra, North Queensland, Canterbury, Brisbane, South Sydney and the Warriors and there was some early speculation they might go through undefeated.
Canberra ended that on May 4 with a 24-20 boilover at AAMI Park. The next week, an away loss to Penrith. “I don’t think I’ve ever been in a side that beat Melbourne,” Panthers halfback Luke Walsh enthused at fulltime.
The Monday Night Football encounter with Manly on May 20 finished in a 10-10 draw and, as a high quality contest, marked a return to form. A worthy away win over the Roosters followed.
But then came the Origin series.
A 38-6 win over Cronulla was followed by a nailbiting success over Newcastle. Then came the Wests Tigers and Canterbury losses, with a 32-0 shutout of Brisbane in between.
The minor premiership was slipping away; after Origin there was a further eight point defeat in Auckland to the Warriors, who were finally picking up some momentum of their own.
Then came the 68-4 win in Canberra and a gutsy 26-8 home success against South Sydney. Smith was superb in a 23-10 win in Newcastle and then there was another 60-point flogging, of Parramatta.
But a trip to Brookvale that ended in a 28-8 loss to Manly showed Melbourne still had ground to make up on the top teams. The regular season was rounded out with a one-point win over Gold Coast at AAMI, where a refereeing call helped the home side.
Then it was a straight-sets exit from the play-offs, with defeats to Souths and the Knights.
“If you take out the last two weeks, it’s been a really good year for us,” said coach Craig Bellamy. “We went over to England and won the World Club Challenge, we started the year with six or seven wins in a row.
“After that, we hit a few rough patches but we came through those rough patches pretty well and found a way to come third in the minor premiership.
“Our draw this year, how it worked out: we travelled a lot early, to hot places, and we had short turnarounds. We came through it well.”
But when the finals came around, there wasn’t enough left in the tank for the world champions.
After the Knights defeat, Bellamy declared: “A lot of you people thought we didn’t have that September buzz, for want of a better word.
“And I think you were right. Whether it’s want, desire, the reason to believe, I’m not quite sure. The last couple of weeks, we just haven’t had that something that you need in September.”
For hooker Smith, 2013 will take a bit of getting over.
“The disappointing thing is not that we’ve gone out of the competition but the way we’ve gone out,” he said.
“It wasn’t our best performance, the last two weeks. We had a team there capable of doing something this year but we didn’t play good enough when it mattered.
“It’s going to hurt … I’m not thinking about next year yet. I’ll probably have a couple of sleepless nights … pondering what could have been this year.
“We’ve got a great side, we’re losing a couple of guys. Brett Finch and Jason Ryles, they’re finishing up
“It’s hard, in this competition, to go all the way. This is our worst result, taking out 2010 (when the Storm’s salary cap punishment involved playing for no points) since 2005, when we haven’t made a prelim or a grand final.
“That’s a fair achievement for an organisation.”
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK