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Developing Storm: Lucky 13 matches Panthers in player production line

Penrith aren't the only team in Sunday's grand final built on the back of developing their own talent.

The Storm will match the Panthers in having 13 players who have made their NRL debut at the club they still call home.

Only Josh Addo-Carr, Brenko Lee, Jahrome Hughes and Dale Finucane debuted elsewhere and the last of that list was the only established first-grader before moving, from Canterbury, to Melbourne in 2016.

The chief difference is while the Panthers produced their talent "on site", 11 of the 17 Melbourne team spent time in Queensland's competition before graduating to the Storm’s NRL team.

That includes Lee, who was signed by Brisbane's Easts Tigers this season but impressed at pre-season training in Melbourne.

He is now on the verge of an Origin call-up for the Maroons.

Lee debuted for Canberra in 2013 and had feared his NRL career was over after 53 matches in seven seasons for the Raiders, Bulldogs and Titans before being offered another chance by the Storm.

Hughes, now a New Zealand international, had played one NRL match for the Titans in 2013 and one for the Cowboys three years later before being signed by Melbourne in 2017 as a back-up for Billy Slater.

He had spent most of the previous four seasons playing in the Intrust Super Cup for the Gold Coast or North Queensland’s feeder teams and played regularly for the Sunshine Coast Falcons until Slater retired in 2018.

Panthers v Storm - Grand final

Addo-Carr signed with the Storm before making his NRL debut for Wests Tigers in 2016 and the speedy winger, who had previously been shown the door by South Sydney and Cronulla, is now an established member of the NSW and Australian teams.

"In 2017, 15 of the 17 players who played in the grand final made their debut with the Melbourne Storm so we were really proud of that fact," Storm general manager of football Frank Ponissi said.

"Whilst we haven't matched it this time, 13 is still a pretty high number."

From Cameron Smith in 2002 to Ryan Papenhuyzen, Nicho Hynes and Tino Faasuamaleaui last season, the Storm have been using Queensland's second tier to prepare players for the Telstra Premiership.

Most players had been in junior systems at other clubs, including Cameron Smith and Cameron Munster (Broncos), Hughes, Felise Kaufusi and Brandon Smith (Cowboys), Hynes (Manly) and Papenhuyzen (Wests Tigers).

However, they were largely unwanted before being signed by the Storm.

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Fijian winger Suliasi Vunivali and Queensland prop Christian Welch came from rugby union backgrounds, while former New Zealand captain Jesse Bromwich joined the club via Orange Hawks.

Cameron Smith began his long career with Melbourne at Norths Devils, the club's feeder team at the time, while Welch and Kiwi forward Kenny Bromwich played for Easts Tigers, as did Munster after being signed from Central Queensland Comets.

Like Hughes, Kaufusi played for the Townsville Blackhawks before signing with Melbourne and his apprenticeship involved stints with Easts Tigers and Sunshine Coast.

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Papenhuyzen, Hughes, Hynes, Justin Olam and Brandon Smith played for Sunshine Coast, while Faasuamaleaui is a Falcons junior who was signed by the Storm.

So enamoured are the Storm with what Queensland clubs have provided, they knowingly stepped into the stricter COVID-19 regulations in Queensland to ensure players and staff were in a familiar locale.

"The Easts/Falcons system is very good for us and to be honest, it is the main reason we are here now," Ponissi said.

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"It has been a challenge being up here in Queensland in terms of the government regulations post-game because they are so strict.

"At the time we discussed how staying in NSW was going to be easier to live and we were close to going to Kingscliff but the overriding factor in coming here was because of the connection with the Sunshine Coast Falcons and what we have built here, and also not being far from Brisbane Easts.

"It would have been a lot easier to be out of Queensland but we just wanted to strengthen the connection with the two feeder clubs and we have no regrets."

Developing Storm

Ryan Papenhuyzen

  • Junior club: Dundas Shamrocks
  • NRL debut: Storm v Bulldogs Round 4, 2019
  • NRL appearances: 41

Suliasi Vunivalu

  • Junior club: Saint Kentigern College, Auckland
  • NRL debut: Storm v Tigers – Round 17, 2016
  • NRL appearances: 110

Brenko Lee

  • Junior club: Logan Brothers
  • Previous NRL clubs: Raiders (15 matches), Bulldogs (18), Titans (20)
  • NRL debut: Raiders v Bulldogs Rd 15, 2014
  • NRL appearances: 66

Justin Olam

  • Junior club: Lae Snax Tigers (PNG)
  • NRL debut:  Storm v Dragons, Round 9, 2018
  • NRL appearances: 37 

Josh Addo-Carr

  • Junior club: Doonside JRLC, Earlwood Saints
  • Previous NRL clubs: Wests Tigers (9)
  • NRL debut: Tigers v Storm Round 7, 2016
  • NRL appearances: 104

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Cameron Munster

  • Junior club: Norths Knights, Rockhampton
  • NRL debut: Storm v Cowboys Rd 12, 2014
  • NRL appearances: 130

Jahrome Hughes

  • Junior club: Currumbin Eagles
  • Previous NRL clubs: Titans (1), Cowboys (1)
  • NRL debut: Titans v Panthers Rd 17, 2013
  • NRL appearances: 59

Jesse Bromwich

  • Junior club: Manurewa Marlins/Orange Hawks
  • NRL debut: Storm v Sharks Rd 1, 2010
  • NRL appearances: 247

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Cameron Smith

  • Junior club: Logan Brothers
  • NRL debut: Storm v Bulldogs Rd 5, 2002
  • NRL appearances 429

Christian Welch

  • Junior club: Brisbane Easts
  • NRL debut: Storm v Eels Rd 19, 2015
  • NRL appearances: 95 matches

Felise Kaufusi

  • Junior club: Bundaberg Brothers
  • NRL debut: Storm v Dragons Rd 1, 2015
  • NRL appearances: 131

Kenny Bromwich

  • Junior club: Manurewa Marlins
  • NRL debut: Storm v Tigers Rd 5, 2013
  • NRL appearances 170

Nelson Asofa-Solomona

  • Junior club: Upper Hutt Tigers
  • NRL debut: Storm v Manly Rd 8, 2015
  • NRL appearances: 123 

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Brandon Smith

  • Junior clubs: Waiheke Rams
  • NRL debut: 2017 Rd 13 Storm v Newcastle
  • NRL appearances: 61

Tino Faasuamaleaui

  • Junior club: Gympie Devils
  • NRL debut: Storm v Dragons 2019 Rd 16
  • NRL appearances: 26

Nicho Hynes

  • Junior club: Umina Bunnies/Woy Woy Roosters
  • NRL debut: Storm v Rabbitohs Rd 21, 2019
  • NRL appearances: 12

Dale Finucane

  • Junior club: Bega Roosters
  • Previous NRL club: Canterbury (66)
  • NRL debut: Bulldogs v Rabbitohs Rd 13, 2012
  • NRL appearances: 200
Acknowledgement of Country

Melbourne Storm respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.