Melbourne were the benchmark all season, the best team in the league and the favourites to clinch a historic Premiership for at least one of their departing stars. But with the fairytale run of the North Queensland Cowboys through the other side of the draw, have the Storm somehow sneaked under the radar for the big dance this Sunday?
Craig Bellamy, head coach of the Storm since 2003, has never been one for over-the-top fanfare and he will relish the attention being heaped on their opponents in the build-up to the Grand Final, even if pundits, experts and most fans expect the Storm will be too good for the boys from Townsville.
It takes some doing to win the regular season so dominantly that you finish six points ahead of your nearest rivals, get through a finals series with wins against the Parramatta and the Broncos yet still have your opponents chew up the column inches in the opening days of Grand Final week.
We’re all talking about the Cowboys
Most of our dedicated writing team think that the Storm will triumph but have spent the early part of an exciting week looking at the Cowboys’ journey, reliving their past and debating their squad selection for the Grand Final, with the Storm barely earning a mention.
A big part of that is born out of just how professional and seamless their preparation will be. In much the same way the New England Patriots of the NFL or the Manchester United teams of old went about their business, the Melbourne Storm exude a quiet confidence and a professional demeanour.
In Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk, the Storm have their own ‘holy trinity’ akin to Sir Bobby Charlton, Dennis Law and the enigmatic George Best of Manchester United lore. Cronk, the half-back and dictator, a genuine Tom Brady-type capable of controlling and owning any game. Smith too probably fits the Brady mould more than any other in terms of comparison. It isn’t clean-cut but what is undeniable is the stellar season that the veteran trio have produced with a support cast of good, talented footballers.
Full-back Slater has played some of the best footy of his career, after an injury layoff which looked to have sapped him of the impact he once had. Players like Jesse Bromwich, Dale Finucane, Cam Munster and the try-scoring wingers Josh Addo-Carr and Suliasi Vunivalu have all had important roles in a dominant season.
The Cowboys have earned their status as the fairytale of the finals. They’ve been ruled out and written off throughout 2017. Bellamy will be happy for Paul Green and the Townsville boys to take all the spotlight, soak up all the media attention and roll in to Sydney with the fanfare and triumph of the deserving battler.
Under the radar, right where they like it
For his side, Bellamy will be happy to sneak in, turn up, complete their sets and do their jobs. If they do that, they’ll probably win out of sheer talent and ability alone. The weight of their star-quality and talented fringe players should be enough to wrap up another Provan-Summons trophy.
They’ll face a fired up Cowboys outfit with absolutely nothing to lose, riding on a wave of emotion and the support of many. But with the spotlight on his opponents, and the inches of text dedicated to the wonderful Cowboys and their story, Bellamy and the Storm loom as the ultimate pantomime villain, poised to cut down the new-found heroes from the north and add to their glittering history.
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