Melbourne Storm are the 2017 NRL Premiers and the world is back to parity yet again. After last year’s heart-breaking Grand Final loss, the Storm put that to rest emphatically, blitzing through the season with only four losses to their name. The Cowboys were no match for the power of the Storm and their “Big 3” of Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Cameron Smith delivered another solid performance to help bring their side a third Premiership.
1. Taumalolo runs into a Storm
One of the key points going into the match had been Jason Taumalolo’s ability to penetrate defensive lines, having completed an average of 21 runs over 250m per game during the finals series, and nearly 200m on average per game throughout the regular season.
His 12 runs for 124 metres was easily his worst return since round five against the Eels and told the story of how well the Storm had him covered in defence. Craig Bellamy’s post-match comments stated his intention to keep the beast to less than 10 metres per run and the Storm back row were ready and waiting to stop him in his tracks. Tohu Harris, Dale Finucane and Felise Kaufusi all made 35 tackles apiece; a superb effort in any game let alone a Grand Final. With Taumalolo frustrated by the rush defence and the amount of ground covered being hampered, the Cowboys were not often able to register an attacking fifth tackle option.
2. Martin exposed in defence
If the preliminary final was anything to go by, Te Maire Martin has a bright tenure at the Cowboys ahead of him. However, on this night, Cronk, Slater and co. showed there is no substitute for experience as they targeted the young pivot, exposing his defensive capabilities twice in the first half.
The first saw a nicely called play from Cronk for the back line to remain deep, as Slater drew Martin in, throwing a great short ball onto a running Kaufusi who glided right through him to score the second try of the game. With half time approaching and the Storm already 12-0 ahead, Cronk threw another crisp pass to Slater, running around and dummying past Martin and Justin O’Neill to score and cap off a superb first half.
3. They do not call them the “Big 3” for nothing
It is fitting to pay tribute to a group of players who have provided so much to the Storm over several seasons, delivering for them again in a big game situation.
Smith was solid through the ruck, running more metres than Taumalolo while Cronk controlled the show and was consistent with the boot. Slater was a constant attacking threat during the night, proven by his 172 run metres, two line breaks, assist and a try. The latter’s effort was enough to deservedly earn him the Clive Churchill Medal for player of the final. After 232 games and 170 wins together, it was the perfect send-off for Cronk, playing his last game for the Storm.
4. Is it possible to catch a Fox?
“The fox,” also known as Josh Addo-Carr, alongside his flying wing partner Suliasi Vunivalu, have carved out their own niche in the role of the winger this season, leading the try-scoring stakes with 23 apiece.
The former has hit lightning pace during the season on his runs and caused headaches for the defence whenever he has been provided any semblance of space.
This was on show again in the final. Midway through the first half, Will Chambers retrieved a kick at the back from Michael Morgan, beat a couple of defenders, and then passed to Addo-Carr, who set off 70 metres to touchdown. It is that ability to create something from seemingly nothing which has made him a revered figure in the Storm’s line-up this season.
He finished the night off by capitalising on an error by Kane Linnett, off-loading to Curtis Scott to set him up for his first try. And in the 73rd minute, he was on the end of some brilliant play by Smith, Cronk and Slater for a very simple finish on the left flank. 224 metres run, his second highest all season, underlies his speed and agility.
5. Fensom’s heartache
Shaun Fensom’s first season with the Cowboys ended in misery as he was stretchered off in the fourth minute of play.
Starting ahead of John Asiata as he had done so throughout the finals series, the former Canberra Raiders lock accidentally collided with teammate Ethan Lowe. Fensom’s leg was awkwardly trapped underneath Lowe’s body as Jesse Bromwich burst into the back, breaking his leg in two places – both his fibula and tibia.
Medics attended to Fensom for about 10 minutes while play was halted and he saluted the crowd bravely with a thumbs up on his way out of the stadium. It would appear that Fensom faces a lengthy stint on the sidelines as a result of the injury.
6. Storm masterclass epitomises their season, and their legacy
They have been not only the form side of the competition this year, but the most consistent. And in a competition like the NRL, consistency more often than not, will win you matches.
There is a reason why other struggling clubs point to the Storm as the team that leads the way in how to build a club, and how to build a culture. In a way, the final was very much a reflection of that.
Established players such as Smith, Cronk and Slater have led the way for several seasons and did so again. Their wingers, both rookies in their own right, have been brilliant finishers. Their pack have out-muscled other sides and defended stoically. Coach Bellamy has been at their helm for a significant period of time and cultivated up-and-coming players in his own right. One could point to Munster as a product of this, who will help to fill the void left by the impending departure of Cronk.
They are the supreme side in the NRL, and if they continue in the same way going forward, I have no doubt we will be seeing them in a similar position come the end of next season.
What did you learn from the Storm’s impressive Grand Final win? Let us know in the comments below.
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