Sunday, September 30, 2012

Melbourne Storm - 2012 NRL Premiers



MELBOURNE 14 (R Hoffman J O'Neill B Slater tries C Smith goal) bt BULLDOGS 4 (S Perrett try) at ANZ Stadium. Referee: Tony Archer, Ben Cummins. Crowd: 82,976.

FINALLY, Melbourne have won a premiership no-one can question. The Storm can party like they did in 1999.

Two years after the salary-cap scandal saw them stripped of their 2007 and 2009 premierships, the Storm clinched a title on bona fide terms with a 14-4 defeat of Canterbury in a grand final epic at ANZ Stadium.

Match centre: Game details and stats, plus vote for man of the match

But the Storm's first legitimate title win in 13 years before 82,976 fans was riven with drama after Bulldogs prop James Graham was reported for sensationally biting the ear of Melbourne fullback Billy Slater.

In one of the most vicious acts in grand-final history, TV replays showed Graham attack Slater after he collided with Sam Perrett as the Bulldogs winger scored in the 26th minute, sparking an all-in brawl.

Taste of defeat: More on Graham's bite

When the dust settled, Slater formalised the biting allegation with referee Tony Archer, who then told Graham and Bulldogs skipper Michael Ennis: "Can you see the blood on his (Slater's) ear?"

The British-born bookend faces a lengthy ban, but the ice-cool Storm overcame the saga to bury the Bulldogs and give master coach Craig Bellamy his first untainted premiership.

"What do you say at moments like this?" said Storm skipper Cameron Smith.

"There was a part of the season where people a lot of people were writing us off, but we stuck strong. We just got back to our basics at training and on the field and it happened.

"It happened for us tonight and we played against a quality opposition. We got the job done.

"I've been asked a few times if we won would this be sweeter than the others. There is a small spot that says yes."

"We were gutted a few years ago, morale wasn't at its highest, but we built this club back up and made it count."

A Bulldogs title would have turned Belmore into Crazy Town. Instead, the Storm were too hungry and too clinical, driven to victory by a magnificent performance from Cooper Cronk, who won the Clive Churchill Medal.

Cronk set up tries for Slater (32nd minute) and Justin O'Neill (39th minute) to give his side a 14-4 half-time lead - and the Storm hung on in the second stanza to break the Bulldogs' hearts.

The match began in glorious conditions, a far cry from the partly moist and overcast conditions that greeted the Manly-Warriors NRL decider 12 months previous.

The death-or-glory clash started at a high-octane pace and it took just five minutes for Bulldogs centre Krisnan Inu to thump Cronk. The Storm halfback hit the turf like a sack of spuds. Boom. Crash. Pachang. It was one of the hits of the NRL season.

Undeterred, the Storm were on the board within 60 seconds, Ryan Hoffman reaching out to score after a scintillating ball from Gareth Widdop to give the visitors a 4-0 lead.

After a frenetic opening, Graham turned the melodrama up a notch when he chomped hard on Slater's ear amid a flurry of pushes and punches. But nothing would deter the Storm. The juggernaut simply rolled on.

Five minutes later, Slater exacted revenge, slicing through after a sublime double-pump from Cronk. And when O'Neill soared high to score from a Cronk cross-kick 60 seconds before half-time to give his side a 14-4 lead, the Storm had one hand on the trophy.

They weren't about to let go.

"Lost for words. Gutted," said Michael Ennis.

"It’s been such an enjoyable year and to go out like this is just devastating.

"Take the emotion out of it, I’m just so proud of our boys and where they’ve come from. They can really hold their heads up high.

"They really turned the corner at this club and we’re going to be around for a few more years yet.

"Our defensive was brilliant in the first half, but there were too many unforced errors that just allowed a good side like Melbourne into the game.

"I thought 10 points at half-time was a credit to our defence and honestly I thought we were a chance to come back there.

"Full credit to Melbourne. They’re a good side and they deserve it."
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