Storm scores travel exemption from Qld government
The Storm have secured a crucial grand final advantage after the Queensland Government granted Melbourne a travel exemption for next Sunday's NRL premiership decider.
The Sunday Mail can reveal the Storm will fly to Sydney on Saturday, becoming the first team since the NRL season resumed following the COVID shutdown to not have to travel on game day.
In line with the government exemption granted to the NRL, they will bypass Queensland's strict border ban and return immediately from NSW after the grand final finishes.
Melbourne is also expected to receive some good news on the injury front, with winger Josh Addo-Carr to overcome an ankle problem and Brandon Smith cleared of a serious facial injury.
The Storm qualified for their fourth grand final in five years with a 30-10 win over Canberra at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night.
They were forced to relocate to the Sunshine Coast in May when the second wave of COVID-19 in Melbourne started gathering momentum and have not returned to Victoria since.
All NRL teams have been travelling to games via private jets on the day they play to minimise time spent in communities and hotels.
But the NRL's Project Apollo committee and Queensland Government have agreed to allow the Storm to leave the Sunshine Coast on Saturday after they complete their final captain's run training session.
Only players and staff will be permitted to leave the hub on Saturday, with families to travel on game day.
The Storm will fly into Sydney and spend Saturday night in a hotel before playing in Sunday's grand final at ANZ Stadium in Homebush.
They will be forced to adhere to strict protocols to limit their interaction with the community following a spike in COVID positive cases in NSW.
They will then have to return to Queensland immediately after full-time, where they will spend the following three days at their Twin Waters base.
Regardless of the result, the Storm plan to conduct their post-season reviews and awards ceremony on the Sunshine Coast before they return to Melbourne.
They will also have to pack up a significant amount of gear given more than 100 players, family and staff have been living permanently at the resort.
The Storm have defied the odds to qualify for the premiership decider and coach Craig Bellamy said it had not been an easy exercise living away from home for so long.
"We've just got on with it and done the best we can," he said.
"The situation we've been in, I'm really proud of them. Basically with being up here, they've been in isolation as well.
"I think the one positive's been the weather. It's better weather than in Melbourne.
"The other thing is we've been aware of what people are going through in Melbourne as well.
"We're away from home and away from AAMI Park and what's normal for us. But having said that, we probably see it as being fortunate in what's happened to the people of Melbourne down there."
Ultimate pride: Bellamy's poignant tribute to Storm squad
And Bellamy has opened up about the pride he has in Melbourne's class of 2020 and insisted the Storm should not be judged on whether they win or lose next Sunday's NRL grand final.
Bellamy has now guided the Storm to nine grand finals in 18 seasons since 2003, a remarkable strike rate which is the NRL's benchmark.
But the Storm have had varied success in the last game of the season, winning four of the eight grand finals Bellamy has presided over and later losing two of those titles.
They lost the 2006 (Brisbane) and 2008 (Manly) deciders and were stripped of their 2007 (Manly) and 2009 (Parramatta) premierships for salary cap breaches discovered in 2010.
The Storm bounced back to win the 2012 (Canterbury) decider, but lost the 2016 (Cronulla) and 2018 (Roosters) grand finals, thrashing North Queensland in between in 2017.
A win next Sunday would see the Storm's recent dominance reflected with two premierships in the past five years, a fitting reward for the perennial powerhouse.
But Bellamy said Melbourne's success should be judged on their consistent dominance as opposed to winning grand finals.
"If we get beat next week, there's four grand finals we've played in five years and lost three," he said.
"Grand finals are hard to make. If you've made grand finals, you've had a successful year. If you make the top four, you've had a successful year.
"Winning that grand final, that's the top of the mountain. But making them is a pretty big thing as well.
"You'll see some players that go through their whole career, they play for 10 years and they don't play in a grand final."
Melbourne captain Cameron Smith will gear up for what is likely to be his eighth and final NRL grand final as he prepares to retire.
Smith said he was proud of Melbourne's ability to regularly feature in the decider.
"There's no doubt it'd be nice to win - the reason we play the game is to go out and win a premiership," he said.
"We've worked so hard and put a lot of effort into our training and our preparation.
"But we've been talking over the last couple of weeks and just reflecting on what our organisation has been able to do over the last decade. This was our eighth prelim in 10 years. It's a pretty special effort.
"How many grand finals is that in the last ten years? It's five. We've been in every second grand final for the last 10 years.
"So some people will judge success by winning a grand final. I'm just really proud of the way this footy side and this organisation seems to front up every year.
"It doesn't matter who pulls on a jersey, who's working in the coaching staff or who's working in the front office. Everyone just turns up every day and does their very best. It's why we've been able to have sustained success for such a long time."
The 2020 season has been like no other due to the disruptions presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, but only the New Zealand Warriors, who were based in NSW, have had to overcome relocation challenges like Melbourne.
The Storm were forced to leave Melbourne in May as the second wave of the virus sent Victoria's capital into lockdown and they have been based on the Sunshine Coast since.
The 2010 salary cap scandal was the most tumultuous period in Storm history and Bellamy said the resilience shown by this year's squad ranked right up there.
"I'm really proud of all them and all those sides. Except for 2010 and 2011, I don't think I've been more proud of a Storm side, to be quite honest," he said.
"We've had some really good teams since then. The 2012 and 2017 sides were wonderful sides. I don't think we've quite got the experience or even some of the talent that those sides had.
"But this group has had a wonderful attitude the whole year. I remember we had to go to Albury, we didn't even know we were going there. And then we went back home again and then we went to Sydney for a little bit.
"And then we were basically told we had to come up here and we were probably going for two or three weeks. We've been here four-five months.
"I haven't heard too many complaints from any of the players or from any of the families. They've just got on with what we needed to do.
"There's certainly been some circumstances and some situations that haven't been great for some individuals in our bubble. We've just got on with it and done the best we can."
Originally published as Storm scores travel exemption from Qld government