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Maroons' seventh heaven upstages Storm's surge to the title

Date

Steve Jancetic

Year in Review

Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk celebrate Melbourne's grand final win.

Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk celebrate Melbourne's grand final win. Photo: Getty Images

Melbourne finally secured some tangible evidence of their NRL dominance in 2012, but unlike the Storm, nothing will ever wipe Queensland's unprecedented run of success from the history books.

The Maroons made it a remarkable seven straight State of Origin series wins, the production running as well as ever with the man who replaced the irreplaceable Darren Lockyer in the Queensland halves - Cooper Cronk - kicking the series-clinching field goal in the decider.

It was the first half of a brilliant double act from Cronk and his Storm teammates Billy Slater and Cameron Smith, who collected their first NRL premiership after having had previous titles taken from them due to the club's systematic rorting of the salary cap.

The ongoing dominance of the Maroons has proved that motivation doesn't always wane on the back of success, but which clubs are best-placed to bring down the Storm juggernaut in 2013?

BRISBANE

The first post-Lockyer era didn't really go to plan as the Broncos scraped into the finals before being bundled out by the Cowboys. Injuries didn't help, but neither did the uncertainty in the halves, which prompted the club to offer veteran playmaker Scott Prince a 2013 lifeline.

CANBERRA

Were supposed to struggle when skipper Terry Campese went down with a season-ending knee injury, and did so to the point coach David Furner's job was on the line. With nothing to lose the Raiders played with freedom to surge into the finals. Furner now has to decide how to get Campese back into a side that played so well without him. The Raiders have moved on back-rower Bronson Harrison, replacing him with Newcastle's Joel Edwards.

CANTERBURY

Caught everyone by surprise in Des Hasler's first year in charge, the secret to stopping the Bulldogs only truly laid to bare in their grand final defeat to the Storm. Much the same roster returns with one significant upgrade in 2013 - man mountain Tony Williams. Ben Barba running off the likes of ''T-Rex'', Frank Pritchard and Sam Kasiano will again make the Bulldogs tough to handle.

CRONULLA

Came up with the best recruitment class in 2012 and look to have done it again for 2013 with representative players Luke Lewis, Michael Gordon and Chris Heighington coming on board. Should improve on this year's one-and-out return to the finals, but much will hinge on how Todd Carney returns from Achilles surgery.

GOLD COAST

The 2012 question mark proved to be the Titans' downfall, with the side struggling to consistently put points on the board without an established halves partner for Scott Prince. Now Prince has gone to the Broncos, Gold Coast have two question marks heading into 2013 regarding who wears the crucial six and seven jumpers.

MANLY

The Sea Eagles are ageing, but with the second-best spine in the NRL still going strong, the premiership window remains open as evidenced by their strong run to this year's preliminary final. The loss of Tony Williams is mitigated by the fact he hardly played for them in 2012 either due to injury and suspension, but the Sea Eagles need some young props to step up in 2013 to maintain their runs of eight consecutive finals campaigns.

MELBOURNE

The Storm's front office has done well to keep the core of the side together while bringing in like-for-like replacements to maintain depth in the squad. The big three had massive years in 2012, while the return of veteran playmaker Brett Finch in 2013 should alleviate some pain during the tough Origin period and allow Cronk, Slater and Smith to get some rest.

NEWCASTLE

Wayne Bennett's first year in charge didn't go according to plan, not helped by the early loss of skipper Kurt Gidley to a shoulder injury. The financial woes of owner Nathan Tinkler are dominating headlines, but questions will be asked about the club's recruitment of ageing forwards Jeremy Smith and Beau Scott, who should at least strengthen a Knights pack which was regularly overrun in 2012.

NORTH QUEENSLAND

With almost all the club's big names coming off contract in 2013 - including co-captains Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott - there is a danger off-field distractions could derail the Cowboys. If they can sort that mess out, they showed enough in 2012 to say they could be the Storm's biggest danger.

PARRAMATTA

Missed out on Israel Folau, meaning new coach Ricky Stuart won't have much help to offer gun fullback Jarryd Hayne, the Eels struggled in 2012 when their main man was not on board as they collected the wooden spoon. Stuart will need to call on all his experience as a former halfback to get the best out of No.7 Chris Sandow, who struggled to handle the pressure in his first season in the blue and gold.

PENRITH

The Panthers have added 14 new players to a squad which finished just one rung above the Eels in 2012. Penrith general manager Phil Gould said it would be a three-year process when he brought in Ivan Cleary as coach in 2012, so expect more growing pains out west. The decision to allow Michael Gordon to leave seems mind-boggling now they have no one to wear the No.1 jumper with Lachlan Coote slated to play at five-eighth next year.

ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA

St George Illawarra seem stuck between eras. The retirement of Ben Hornby and Dean Young came after a tired 2012 campaign in which the Dragons had the worst attack in the competition. Many players from the side which won the 2010 title remain on the roster, and coach Steve Price faces a tough ask reinvigorating a squad lacking star quality.

SOUTH SYDNEY

This year's Cinderella story is well-placed to build on a brilliant 2012 campaign, when they reached their first preliminary final since 1989. Michael Maguire's decision to switch Greg Inglis to fullback was the coaching masterstroke of the year. Inglis was the most dominant force in the competition. The loss of Dave Taylor will reduce some strikepower, but may yet provide a more balanced Rabbitohs pack.

SYDNEY ROOSTERS

A seemingly wasted year on the field for the Roosters, as they awaited the 2013 arrival of three key figures - new coach Trent Robinson, five-eighth James Maloney and superstar dual international Sonny Bill Williams. With SBW signed for just one year, the Roosters have put all their eggs in one basket, but it remains to be seen how he will adjust back to rugby league and whether he has enough help.

NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS

Along with the Tigers, the biggest disappointments of the 2012 season. It seemed the sky was the limit for a young and talented Warriors squad which made the 2011 grand final, but coach Brian McClennan failed to rediscover the mojo. It cost the likeable coach his job, with journeyman Matt Elliott now handed the task of reinventing the Warriors.

WESTS TIGERS

Pre-season premiership favourites, the Tigers imploded during a difficult season which cost Tim Sheens his job, when players questioned some of his roster moves as he looked to revitalise the side. Now rookie mentor Michael Potter will put his stamp on the club, but as always, it will be down to whether Benji Marshall and off-contract Robbie Farah fire. AAP

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