The team stacked full of champions confirmed their status as the champion team of 2017 and the past decade as the Melbourne Storm powered past the courageous but ultimately outclassed North Queensland Cowboys to easily take out the NRL Grand Final. It was all but over at half time though the Cowboys briefly shot some life into the contest, as soon as the Cowboys attempted to lift the Storm quashed the comeback and turned the final twenty minutes into a procession as the Storm clinically took the Cowboys apart.
In honour of the Storm’s retiring Cooper Cronk here’s:
The Water Cooler – The Magnificent Seven Talking Points
The Storm are renowned for their diligence and meticulous planning. This game developed as if the script had been written by Craig Bellamy with the foreword penned by Cameron Smith. Melbourne ripped out the pages of the Cowboys fairy tale and tossed them to the wind and put fact before fiction. The cold hard facts were the Storm had been the best side all season and knew if they played their best they would win this match and they did. The Cowboys had surprised everyone by making an inspired run from eighth but were tired and needed to run into the Storm off their game, they ran into a category 5 Cyclone! The Storm were in control from the outset and won the premiership in style. The best front runners in the game took a while to win the arm wrestle but once they got in front they broke the Cowboys. The Storm were a far more dangerous beast this season than the side pipped at the post in last year’s grand final emphasised by Will Chambers brilliant backfield offload to the flying fox Josh Addo-Carr brought the game to life and set the Storm on course for glory.
The Big Easy
The Big 3 signed off in style. Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater were simply sensational in their final outing together. They held the outcome in their legendary hands. They were on and were just too hot for the Cowboys to handle. Smith was the best player on the park and unlucky not to take out the Clive Churchill Medal, maybe the award selectors thought his personal cabinet trophy would bust if he won something else this season. Smith controlled the game with his usual excellence, probing out of dummy half with the speed and precision of a Swiss watch and always taking the right option. His opening spurt was eerily similar to his brilliant burst to begin Origin III, setting the tone and putting the Cowboys on the back foot and the Storm in complete control.
Badge of Honour
Billy Slater capped a remarkable comeback to the NRL after two devastating and demoralising seasons out of the game by winning the Churchill Medal. Though I thought Smith was a snippet better than Slater you cannot argue with Billy the Kid winning the gong. Slater’s emotion post-game spoke volumes for the pain and hard work he endured to rehabilitate and recover. Sitting on the sidelines in a suit watching the heartbreaking loss to the Sharks last year must have burned Slater, to then return to his best reaffirmed what a remarkable rugby league icon he is. Slater demonstrated his class all season and delivered dynamite on the biggest stage. Slater was safe at the back as the Cowboys sweated forlornly on a mistake and then turned on the style, providing a sublime ball for the excellent Felise Kaufusi to skate through a huge hole as the Storm put a gap on the Cowboys then Slater scored himself to stamp the Storm’s superiority as they romped away.
Cooper Cronk played his final match in a purple jersey and possibly his last in the NRL and performed with the professionalism you’d expect. Cronk was measured and magnificent in steering his men expertly around the park. His kicking game was on point and the perfect play the Big 3 put on to spear Slater through a gaping hole up the middle that ended in Josh Addo-Carr’s second try was pure genius and rugby league will be poorer for this tremendous trio no longer teaming up. They perform on a wavelength other players and sides can’t pick up. That play is a signature move and always put on with immaculate timing. It’s like death, you know it’s coming at some point but are powerless to stop it and that try was the final nail in the Cowboys coffin.
Craig Bellamy will be smiling for many reasons, winning another premiership the obvious one. Another is the searing bright future ahead for the Storm. The focus was on the Big 3 but the stars aligned with the assistance of a stellar support cast. Josh Addo-Carr scored a brilliant double, Cameron Munster caused constant headaches and Jesse Bromwich was a menacing presence providing sweet stepping. Rookie Curtis Scott played with a maturity beyond his tender age, while Dale Finucane was the constant rock in the ruck and his first premiership victory in four attempts was highlighted with the match sealing try that put the Cowboys fight back in their box. Cronk, Jordan McLean and Tohu Harris, who played a blinder, will be missed but Bellamy won’t bat an eye lid comforted by the belief he has the squad to compete for higher honours again next year.
Cowboys Fire Blanks
The fear for the Cowboys was that they were weary and had run their race by the time they hit the field. The hope was the spirit they’d shown and the momentum they’d gathered could cause an upset if they could muster the energy to overpower the Storm. It was a valiant effort but the Cowboys were just never in the hunt. The shocking injury to Shaun Fensom was the worst possible start and things didn’t get much better. They never threatened in the first stanza. The fatigued forwards couldn’t get the Cowboys into the red zone as the Storm ground them down. Jason Taumalolo couldn’t flick the switch into Beast Mode as the wrecking ball looked deflated as he couldn’t punch holes in the Storm’s resolute defence. Michael Morgan was feeding off scraps and the Cowboys brief fight back petered out as panic set in as the scoreboard pressure peeled away the Cowboys super hero costumes to reveal an outfit of tired and tattered chaps.
The silver lining in the disappointing finale was the sterling and inspiring effort the Cowboys produced just to make it to the Big Dance. This courage was highlighted in the opening period of the second stanza when the busted Cowboys threw everything at the Storm and just for a few minutes gave hope that a miracle was a minor possibility. The brave Cowboys never used injuries or travel as an excuse and grew as a side and a club with a spirit that will bear fruit in future seasons. You would have to think they’re one of the teams to beat next season with the top drawer troops, Jonathan Thurston and Matt Scott, to return and new recruit the Storm’s departing prop Jordan McLean, who will hope to win another premiership ring with his new Cowboy team mates. Just don’t wear this ring to your first pre-season training session Jordan.
The Last Word
While it wasn’t a classic game the result was fitting. The Storm were streets ahead of the rest all year and earned the title and deserved to be crowned the NRL Kings. The Cowboys fairy tale would have been a fantastic feel good story but as Cooper Cronk said post-game “there’s no fairy tales only hard work”. True Coops but if you do retire you may want to give writing children’s books a miss but definitely give the corporate speaking circuit a crack. I hope Cronk plays on as its players like him that every club needs especially the battlers in Sydney who’ll benefit from his super-sized brain and brilliance.
The final word for the season goes to the great pre-game show from US rapper Macklemore. All the controversy surrounding him during the highly charged same sex marriage debate here before he’d even arrived in the country was forgotten the moment Johnathan Thurston high fived him as he strutted to the stage, how’s that for a royal endorsement!
Any worry of angry old white dudes storming the stage in red sequin budgie smugglers saying “NO entry” on the back, evaporated as Macklemore put on a marvellous show that had not only the millennials moving and grooving but me rocking and rolling in my armchair. The politics were pushed aside and Ole Jock just let the music wash over him and tapped his toes, he even knew the name of the songs, cop that Keith Urban.
It’s been a great season ending in the sensational Storm proclaimed premiers and no doubt painting Melbourne purple for the next few days.
In true league fashion I’m off to Phuket for some R&R! Peace, out.
Main photo – AAP: David Moir