CEO wants Storm to be No.1 club
Dave Donaghy is a content man. The Melbourne Storm chief executive has overseen an almost perfect season on and off the park: an NRL minor premiership, a home crowd average of over 18,000 and positive membership growth.
He agrees the club is good shape.
"As a club, you get a sense there's a fair degree of momentum behind us at the moment," Donaghy said.
"I feel the pieces are in place, but certainly off-field we were at a point two or three years ago where we were plateauing at 15,000 members.
"Last year, we ticked over 17,500. This year it's upward of 21,000. Next year, we've got plans for 25,000 and beyond."
Donaghy's ultimate goal is for the Storm to have the NRL's biggest membership base. It was unthinkable when Melbourne entered the competition nearly 20 years ago, but with some marquee events over the next 12 months and on the back of back-to-back grand final berths, the club boss is optimistic.
"There's no reason why we can't be number one, particularly in a city of 4.5 million, and off the back of the Rugby League World Cup and State of Origin (at the MCG next year)," he said.
"So there's a good springboard to elevate us hopefully beyond a few of our rivals up north.
"That's all part of what we want to be: the best, and the biggest NRL club in the country."
One of Donaghy's focuses was to plan for Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater's eventual retirement. But the CEO still didn't expect Cronk to hand in his resignation this year.
"We knew we had to bring in the next generation," he said.
"At the same time, we didn’t want to have that leadership or skills vacuum. The aim for us was always to stagger it ideally.
"It probably caught us a little bit by surprise that 'Coops' was the first to walk into this office this year and say he's going to Sydney. But from a planning and success point of view, it is probably going to work out okay."
Senior forwards like Jessie Bromwich and Dale Finucane have opted to stay at the Storm rather than get richer elsewhere. It's a testament to the Storm's culture.
"They don't want to leave the club in bad shape," he said.
"They're genuine about that.
"They’ve probably taken lesser contracts financially than they could have taken elsewhere throughout their whole careers, and the goals always been they can make the team stronger."
What does Donaghy put this sense of player loyalty down to? He feels it revolves around coach Craig Bellamy and the club's staff.
"There's a lot of unsung heroes around this footy club – whether it's the welfare guys, Brian Phelan, Pete Robinson, Andrew Blowers, who do great work with our players," he said.
"I think our coach's greatest strength is his empathy for our players. He gets down to know their families, partners, kids, dogs, and cats.
"You still see Matt King's mum come in for games. Kingy hasn't played here for a decade. It's nice."