Melbourne Storm defeated the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs 14 points to 4, and Gareth Widdop, the Halifax born Great Britain international became the first Englishman to pick up a winners ring since current Warrington Wolves captain Adrian Morley won playing for Sydney City Roosters ten years ago.
This was built up to be the story of the two fullbacks. Australian international and State of Origin star Billy Slater lined up at number one for the Storm, and is being widely regarded as the best fullback of all time, but his opposite number with the Bulldogs Ben Barba has emerged as a truly sensational talent, and it was Barba who thought he had drawn first blood after he went the length of the field only to be brought back for a knock on deep in their own half. In the following set, ex Wigan Warriors second row forward Ryan Hoffman crossed for the opening score for the Storm in a twelve point swing that set the tone for Melbourne
Grand Finals are notoriously and understandably tight and tense affairs and when Ben Barba let Cooper Cronk’s towering up and under it gave the feeling that this might not be the Dog’s night
Melbourne dominated the opening exchanges, and their attack put constant pressure on the Dog’s defence, creating repeat sets of six and having a 100% completion rate in the first quarter of the game.
The whole complexion of the whole game could have been changed had the Storm’s Australian international Captain Cameron Smith kicked two relatively straight forward shots at goal.
Momentum started to swing in the Dogs favour in the second quarter of the first half, when Canterbury began to see more of the ball, and off the back of their stubborn defence, the newly introduced James Graham gave their forward pack an increased go forward.
It all boiled over in the 26th minute when Canterbury when Sam Perrett scored the equalising try. James Graham was accused of biting Billy Slater’s ear in an incident which was placed on report, but from first viewings it did not look good for the Englishman.
The Storm regained the lead on 32 when Billy Slater jinked his way over, and on the stroke of half time Justin O’Neill took a beautiful Cronk kick to score in the corner, giving the Storm a not undeserved 10 point half time lead, which could have been even more had Cameron Smith managed to convert more than the 1 from 4 he did manage in the first half. He went on to miss another penalty in the second period
The start to the second half began much in the same vain as the first half, but this time it was the Dog’s camped on the Storm line for the first ten minutes. Defence had been on top for much of the first half, and with the Canterbury side knowing they needed tries; Melbourne doubled their defensive effort having withstood repeat sets of six on numerous occasions.
A noticeable trait in such an explosive game was the precision of the close kicking game of both teams which ensured the defensive side remained under huge pressure, but countering that the defensive effort, especially of the Melbourne Storm was quite phenomenal.
Keeping side of the quality of these two scoreless in a half, and for Melbourne to concede just the one try in the game is a remarkable effort, epitomised by Cameron Smith holding up Dog’s skipper Michael Innes over the line midway through the second half which would have put Canterbury one score away, and was a pivotal point of the game.
After the financial scandals which rocked the Victoria club and resulted in the annulment of their 2007 and 2009 grand final victories, this victory will be all the sweeter for the club, and coach Craig Bellamy. They still have a lot of star players, and the big three which make up the spine of their team, but the more unheralded players who have come though since the news of their financial management rocked the sport down under must be a joy to see for the coaches and supporters a like.
Victory for Melbourne will again go some way to establishing the Storm as a major sporting giant of the game, and the likes of Smith, Slater and Cronk will go down as some of the best players ever to grace a rugby league field. On this day, defence won out, and Melbourne produced as clinical and polished performance as could be hoped for.
image: © markehr