2017 NRL grand final: There's no I or iPhone in this Melbourne Storm team

Something wasn't quite right with the Storm culture in the two years following their 2012 premiership.

They went out backwards in 2013 and the following year lost 28-4 to Canterbury at home in the first week of the semi-finals.

Apart from the usual problems inevitable at any club – injuries, lack of depth in certain positions, tired players – there was a communication breakdown between the older and younger members of the squad.

Nothing serious in the sense of personal hostility, or even mutual dislike, but an absence of the gentle banter you hear in successful dressing rooms where no one needs offer a penny for another man's thoughts.

In early August of 2014, during a camp on the NSW Central Coast between two away games against Wests Tigers and Newcastle, the problem was identified.

It took some time to resolve, although the Stor

m's loss to the Cowboys in the 2015 preliminary final was more to do

with injury in the forwards and weakness in the outside backs.

Rugby league is a war game, with its lines of attack and defence. Great armies are not built overnight, nor are communication breakdowns between its constituent parts resolved quickly.

That night in 2014 at the Storm's hotel, the Crown Plaza in Terrigal, the coaching staff noticed something bizarre at dinner. There were two tables, each of 10 players and only two players were talking to each other.

Eighteen were speaking on mobile phones, texting, scrolling through emails or using apps.

Thanks for the memories: Storm coach Craig Bellamy (right) and Cooper Cronk share a moment after the preliminary final victory over Brisbane. Photo: AAP

Thanks for the memories: Storm coach Craig Bellamy (right) and Cooper Cronk share a moment after the preliminary final victory over Brisbane. Photo: AAP

An immediate ban on the use of mobile phones at team meetings and meals was imposed, with $50 fines levied, even for a phone ringing that went unanswered.

I witnessed the result of this in June this year, on a trip from Melbourne to Sydney for a Thursday night match against the Sharks. The three days away with the Storm demonstrated how much in rugby league has changed, yet how little has changed.

The ease with which players transfer from bus to airport lounge to plane to luggage carousel to bus to team hotel is achieved with militaristic efficiency.

A Storm official hands players their boarding passes immediately they retrieve luggage and dispenses room keys at the hotel. No one waits, unlike the time wasted years ago sitting in hotel foyers while the club secretary actioned everything only on arrival.

Yet it was after the match where I was most surprised.

Given my love of a beer, the modern NRL dressing room doesn't do much for me. Soggy watermelon, grapes, nuts, raisins and kiwi fruit might be appealing to an exhausted player, but not those of the old school.

But in the visitors' dressing room at Cronulla the Eskys were rolled out and players sat about, most still in their jumpers and shorts, drinking beer. Sure, the mood was aided by a win over the Sharks and the announcement by football manager Frank Ponissi of Billy Slater's recall to the Queensland State of Origin team.

Shark Park was dark and deserted by the time everyone filed onto the bus, some two hours after the game.

A small band of supporters had waited faithfully by the bus for autographs, which were forthcoming with apologies for the late hour.

Back at the hotel, the players had dinner and then broke up into groups of about eight, playing cards and chatting.

It was then I noted the absence of mobile phones.

Captain Cameron Smith sat with the youngest players, but it seemed more by seat availability than design.

The beer continued to flow and I was the first to bed, at about 2.30am.

Melbourne's next game, against the Cowboys at home, was nine days away, plus it was a farewell to the Storm's Queensland players for the second Origin match.

As it transpired, the match against the Cowboys was won courtesy of a field goal from Brodie Croft, a player who did not make the trip to Sydney and may not, therefore, have been affected by this cultural retreat.

The Cowboys are a different team now, with Michael Morgan's precision advantage-line passes, Jason Taumalolo's inspiring charges and hooker Jake Granville's dangerous dummy-half forays, especially down the blind side.

They also have a clever kicking game, trapping opponents in the corners of the field.

The Townsville team has relied on their high completion rate for success in recent weeks and, provided the Storm match this, the minor premiers should win.

I tell many an ex-player about my journeys with the Storm, if only to counter their suspicions the modern NRL man is a latte sipper obsessed with everything beginning with I, including himself, iPhones and iPads.

"We don't do it every away game," coach Craig Bellamy said of the beers flowing after the Cronulla match, and, indeed, there has been a total beer ban during this year's finals.

Bellamy's next challenge must be to visit the White House on his annual education trip to the US and ask the tweeting US President Donald Trump to join the Storm's mobile phone ban.

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