Ryan Hoffman was given the honour of leading Melbourne Storm in the first NRL Nines tournament played in front of huge crowds at Eden Park in Auckland.
Our 16-man squad included a young Cameron Munster as well as the experience of internationals Will Chambers, Kevin Proctor and Tohu Harris.
Munster and Chambers scored tries in the first-up 14-11 loss to Penrith but Storm bounced back in round two with a double from Chambers plus Mahe Fonua crossing in an 18-12 win against South Sydney.
Needing to beat St George Illawarra in the final pool game to have any chance of reaching the quarter-finals, Storm conceded the first two tries but then hit back with an amazing length-of-the-field Mitch Garbutt try after the halftime siren.
Fonua then put the Storm in front but a late Brett Morris try ended Melbourne’s tournament with a 14-10 loss.
At the second Auckland Nines Storm created a little piece of history by joining Wests Tigers in becoming the first clubs to wear eye-catching sleeveless jerseys.
There were plenty of familiar names in Storm’s squad, captained by Will Chambers, with Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Kenny Bromwich, Suliasi Vunivalu and Tim Glasby competing in the Nines for the first time.
The second Nines ended up being a repeat of the first for Melbourne, with one win from three in the pool games not enough to advance to the quarter-finals.
Kurt Mann and Hymel Hunt scored for Storm in a first-up 17-8 loss to North Queensland but Storm kept their chances alive to downing Penrith 20-4 in the second pool game. The damage came through the outside backs with a double to Young Tonumaipea adding to tries from Chambers and Marika Koroibete.
A red-hot Rabbitohs stopped Storm from progressing when they scored a 24-4 victory in the final round. Cameron Munster put the only points on the board for Melbourne with a trademark stepping run in the first half, while South Sydney went on to claim the title.
The third instalment of the NRL Auckland Nines saw Melbourne Storm reach the finals for the first time on the back of a youthful squad with an average age of just 22.
Blake Green, the oldest member of the team at 29-years-old, took on the captaincy role, while assistant coach Adam O’Brien was given the coaching responsibilities.
Disregarded as a title threat, Melbourne made a spectacular start with back-to-back victories against Parramatta (14-4) and South Sydney (18-12) sealing a last eight spot.
Cameron Munster lined up for his third consecutive Nines tournament and put Storm on the board first against the Eels. Richie Kennar and Blake Green rounded out the tryscorers.
Three players who went on to feature in the 2017 premiership success – Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Kenny Bromwich and Curtis Scott – were the tryscorers against the defending champion Rabbitohs.
A 26-7 defeat against the Sydney Roosters in the shootout to determine the pool winners was only a minor setback.
Kennar made it two tries for the tournament in the loss to the Roosters and then made it three as Storm outgunned 2014 Nines winners North Queensland 14-6 in the quarter-finals.
Storm’s outstanding tournament was ended 17-8 by Parramatta in the semi-finals – the second straight year that Melbourne was eliminated by the eventual champions.
Kennar, with his fourth, and Tohu Harris were on the scoresheet in the three tries to two defeat.
The last year of the Nines in Auckland was almost an identical repeat of the 2016 tournament for Melbourne.
Once again, Storm made the semi-finals and again they were eliminated by the eventual champions – this time the Sydney Roosters in heartbreaking fashion.
It wasn’t a promising start for Melbourne, co-captained by Kenny Bromwich and Young Tonumaipea, with an 18-4 loss to Brisbane kicking off the competition, but they then went on a four-game winning streak to make the final four.
The sequence started with a 14-6 victory against Wests Tigers followed by a 20-10 win against Newcastle which sealed second place in the pool.
For the second straight year, Storm eliminated the Johnathan Thurston-led North Queensland 25-12 in the quarter-finals, bouncing back from conceding the first try with four-pointers of their own to Tonumaipea, Ryley Jacks, Mark Nicholls, Slade Griffin and Josh Addo-Carr.
The Roosters led the semi-final against the Roosters 11-0 before the “Foxx” showed his speed to put Storm on the board with a five-pointer.
Felise Kaufusi broke through to set up Tonumaipea for Melbourne’s second and they then hit the lead off a Nicholls try with less than two minutes to go.
However, a 95-metre try from the kickoff by the Roosters, Connor Watson setting up rookie Bernard Lewis, ruined Storm’s grand final bid – the Roosters winning a Nines classic 21-16.
Storm NRL Nines stats
2014: Group stage (won 1, lost 2)
2015: Group stage (won 1, lost 2)
2016: Semi-finalists (won 3, lost 2)
2017: Semi-finalists (won 3, lost 2)
Biggest margin of victory
16 points (20-4) v Penrith, 2015
Most points in a game
25 v North Queensland Cowboys, 2017
Team of the Tournament
2016: Tohu Harris
2017: Cameron Munster, Brodie Croft
2014: Ryan Hoffman
2015: Will Chambers
2016: Blake Green
2017: Kenny Bromwich and Young Tonumaipea
5 Young Tonumaipea
4 Cameron Munster
4 Richie Kennar
3 Josh Addo-Carr
3 Will Chambers
3 Brodie Croft
2 Mark Nicholls
2 Mahe Fonua
2 Curtis Scott