It’s official. The Melbourne Storm are the premiers – and this time it’s not getting taken away from them. (We hope.)
Having had two premierships stripped because of salary cap rorting this is just the third title for the side from the Victorian capital – and this is one they clearly deserve.
Craig Bellamy’s side lost just four games all season. The only side to better that record since the NRL was formed in 1998 was Bellamy’s own Storm side of 2007 who lost just three games, but that was one of the years that Melbourne were stripped of their title.
So this 2017 Storm side can rightly lay claim to being the greatest ever team to play in the NRL.
Their comfortable 34-6 Grand Final victory over the giant-killing North Queensland Cowboys was built on the back of a trio of vintage stars, who seem to just get better as the years roll by – captain and hooker Cameron Smith, full-back Billy Slater and half-back Cooper Cronk.
The same trio that Queensland’s decade-long dominance of State of Origin has been built around.
The Cowboys battled bravely right to the end but were barely in the contest right from the outset against a Storm side that were clinical and relentless from the opening whistle.
Melbourne wanted to send out Cronk in style in his final game in purple. They did that and more.
It’s fitting that the final club match from the all-star trio saw all three bring their best to the game’s biggest stage, scoring or creating four tries. They got plenty of assistance from their dominant forward pack and some moments of brilliance from exciting young stars like Josh Addo-Carr.
The scoreline reflected the sheer dominance of Melbourne’s performances right from Round 1 this year but did not fairly reflect the effort the Cowboys put into a contest.
The match started badly for the men from Townsville with play held up for several minutes while prop Shaun Fensom received medical attention and was taken from the field after just four minutes.
Attempting to stop a charging Jesse Bromwich along with teammate Ethan Lowe, the latter landed awkwardly on Fensom’s ankle. He immediately signaled for the trainer and there was a delay while the 28-year-old was administered pain relief and loaded onto a medicab.
While North Queensland managed to weather the storm, pardon the pun, for the opening 20 minutes, the favourites started to flex their muscle from midway through the half.
First, Will Chambers received a Cowboys tap-back from an attacking bomb near Melbourne’s end and offloaded to speedy winger Addo-Carr who streaked 70 metres to open the scoring.
After a few more sets of dominant yardage and a Smith grubber for a repeat set, Melbourne extended their lead when Felise Kaufusi carved past Te Maire Martin off a nice Slater pass in the 28th minute.
When the Cowboys’ Antonio Winterstein fumbled a Cronk attacking grubber on his own line it set the stage for yet another Storm assault and this time Slater went himself, slicing through an increasingly brittle Cowboys left edge defence to make it 18-0 at the break.
The Cowboys desperately needed to be first to score in the second half against the competition’s best front-runners and they got some help from the Storm, who handed over five straight penalties to camp the Cowboys in attacking range and allow Martin to slice through.
That was as good as it got though as an unstoppable Storm exploded late, in similar fashion to how they put the Broncos to the sword a week earlier in a 30-0 demolition.
Bega-born lock Dale Finucane powered onto a Smith flat ball at the line to burst over in the 64th minute; a simple error from Kane Linnett coughed the ball up to Addo-Carr who offloaded to an unmarked Curtis Scott three minutes later.
Addo-Carr then bagged his double in the 73rd minute after some lovely lead-up work from Cronk and Slater before a beautiful long cut-out from Tohu Harris to seal the dominant 34-6 result.
The legendary Storm trio lingered on the field long after the trophy presentation – and well they deserved it.
To paraphrase one who knew something about great victories, “Here was a team. When comes such another.”