Australia

Why Jahrome Hughes will be missed in Melbourne’s bid for Sydney’s NRL win record

They say one week is a long time in football.

That means 19 rounds is as good as eternity, especially for half a country in lockdown. 

Whatever Australians remember about the past two years, history will note the form of the Storm to be as good as any other team’s, ever.

Melbourne is chasing its 19th win in a row as it faces the Titans on Thursday night.

That would equal the record in elite rugby league in Australia, held for now by the Roosters in the 1975 season of the New South Wales Rugby League.

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Ian Schubert played fullback for that team in his first season in top grade.

“I think we lost the first couple before we had a win, and it was always nice to get the first one up,” he tells ABC Sport.

“And then you don’t tend to notice 19 in a row because you’re just playing and hoping you win, and doing your best each week for yourself and your team.”

After a successful representative career, Schubert went onto become the NRL’s salary cap auditor — at one point helping catch cheating by the Melbourne Storm — but still looks back fondly at his first season.

Ian Schubert caught the Bulldogs and Storm exceeding the salary cap in an 18-year career as NRL auditor.(

AAP: Mick Tsikas

)

Storm forward Jesse Bromwich says right now, the record is not a focus for the team.

“To be able to do what we’ve done this year is very surprising, but in my opinion, people don’t really remember the winning streaks.

Missing pieces

For much of the season, the Storm has been without important contributors.

Clive Churchill-medal winning fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen has missed much of the season with concussion symptoms. Representative players Cameron Munster, Harry Grant, Christian Welch, Dale Finucane and Kenny Bromwich have all spent extended time on the sidelines.

A chart showing the Storm have endured many injuries this season.

But the winning run continues.

“Even though they lose players,” Schubert says, “they replace them with people some would call lesser names, and all of a sudden those lesser names have got a grand final badge on their mantelpiece.”

Halfback Jahrome Hughes has missed just one game in the streak, against the Raiders in round 11 to a calf injury (the Storm won anyway).

He has consolidated his place among the finest playmakers in the game, having previously struggled to convince doubters of his value.

Brad Fittler was one of those at the end of season 2019 when the Storm bowed out to the Raiders in the preliminary final.

Jahrome Hughes celebrates a Storm try
Jahrome Hughes (left) has become a leader at Melbourne.(

AAP: Scott Barbour

)

“The fact is, Jahrome didn’t do that much going into the last couple of games,” he told Channel 9.

“Jahrome didn’t inspire or bring anything else out of them.”

But Hughes has gone to another level in the past two years.

The 26-year-old is a reliable game manager and fifth tackle option but he has become one of the game’s most elusive runners, regularly recording line breaks (in black) down his preferred right side.

A chart showing Jahrome Hughes breaks the line in locations more similar to fullbacks.

Such is his importance to the Storm, he was given a rest for the second half against the Knights in round 18 having helped his team to a 30-point half-time lead.

“You don’t see anything there but then he goes there and comes out the other side. He’s a remarkable player: he’s got nous, he’s got speed, he’s got skill,” coach Craig Bellamy said after the match.

Hughes moved to the halves from playing fullback early in his career, but he still breaks defensive lines with his legs like the best number ones.

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The line break leaderboard is usually the domain of wingers and fullbacks.

But Hughes is keeping pace with the best of them, while also putting on four-pointers for his team-mates, tallying almost one try assist per game — trailing only Souths’ Cody Walker and Manly duo Daly Cherry-Evans and Tom Trbojevic. 

Rivalry simmers

The withdrawal of Melbourne’s number seven this weekend due to concussion is unfortunate, after he was hit high by Canberra’s Corey Harawira-Naera on the weekend.

Yet his absence adds a twist to the Storm’s quest for the record.

Although he once triggered the club’s salary scandal, Schubert has enjoyed watching Melbourne rack up the wins on the way towards the record, and says if it does happen he’s “happy to lose it to anyone”.

Well, maybe not anyone.

“It would have been nice to lose it to a Sydney side of course,” Schubert says.

When told of the comments of the former Rooster, Bromwich smiles.

“It would be nice to take the record, it would be nice to bring it down to Melbourne … and it would be nice to take it from a Sydney team.”

The Melbourne Storm plays the Gold Coast Titans on Thursday night, chasing an NRL/NSWRL record-equalling 19 wins in a row. Listen via ABC Sport in the ABC Listen app or through your local ABC radio station in selected areas.


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