The man who signed “The Big Three”, ex-Melbourne coach Mark Murray, reckons the Storm no longer rely on them ahead of the NRL grand final against North Queensland.
Murray lasted two seasons at the Melbourne helm before Craig Bellamy took the reins in 2003.
However, the former Queensland halfback still left a lasting legacy after snapping up Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk with then Storm talent scout Anthony Griffin.
Seventeen years after they first lobbed at the Storm’s feeder club Brisbane Norths, the trio will play for the final time in the season decider on Sunday at ANZ Stadium.
Murray has naturally kept a close interest on his discoveries since his Storm departure in 2002.
And he said life after the future Immortals appeared bright at Melbourne.
Murray said the emergence of teen sensation Curtis Scott, wingers Josh Addo-Carr and Suliasi Vunivalu, and a dominant pack ensured the Storm’s depth had never been better as they vie for a third official premiership.
“There had been a reliance on the Big Three since Greg Inglis left (in 2011) but now there is quality across the group,” Murray told AAP.
“Guys like Scott, their two wingers, Cameron Munster, Will Chambers, their forwards are stronger than they have been. They are dangerous across the park.”
Not that he expected skipper Smith to retire any time soon.
Cronk’s future is up in the air after announcing he will leave at season’s end to be with his fiancee in Sydney.
Slater is yet to decide whether he will play on next year after overcoming serious shoulder issues.
And Smith? Murray hopes to be admiring the 34-year-old from afar for years to come.
There has been a lot to admire of late.
Smith this week became the oldest Dally M Medal winner in a year in which he broke Darren Lockyer’s record for most NRL games played and was the first to crack 40 State of Origin games.
“I can’t see an end, not the way he is playing,” Murray said of Smith.
“He is playing smarter. And he’s durable.
“He’s no Mr Universe but he is well put together.
“The only way I can see him stop playing is mental fatigue.
“Billy relies more on the physical side. If he stays healthy he may play on.”
Murray reckoned identifying the Big Three was the easy bit back then.
That’s why he is marvelling at what the trio have become under his successor Bellamy all those years later.
“I have watched them run around for the Storm, Queensland and Australia with more keen interest than others because of my early involvement with them,” he said.
“It was a mix of good luck and good advice; credit has to go to Anthony Griffin who was the first point of contact.
“Anyone can spot football talent. Grandma in the third row can tell who is the best player. It’s what you do with it.
“And sometimes there are discipline issues. But usually if you are a mug on the field, you are one off it; it goes hand in hand.”
And Murray’s grand final tip?
“The Cowboys have been extremely brave to be in the position that they are in but playing Melbourne is a different proposition,” he said.
“I suspect if the Cowboys had played the Storm in the previous two weeks they would have been eliminated by now.
“If they stay within six points of Melbourne by the 60th minute it will go down to the wire. If not, the scoreline may blow out like last weekend against the Broncos (30-0).”