The Big Three have been the living embodiment of the Storm’s incredible era of success. (AAP: Dan Himbrechts)
Melbourne Storm’s emphatic grand final win has capped a 2017 season which is the crowning glory of their era of success.
The Storm has set the pace since 2003 when Craig Bellamy took the coaching reins. Around the same time, 20-year-olds Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk arrived at the club.
In the 15 seasons since, Melbourne has made eight grand finals and won five premierships. They were minor premiers six times and have only missed the finals once.
That was in 2010 when all their premiership points were stripped as well as three minor premierships and their 2007 and 2009 titles due to salary cap breaches.
Agree or disagree, no shouting “Out, Damn’d Spot” will make the stain disappear but the Storm felt vindicated by their 2012 premiership win. It proved their legitimacy.
Now, skipper Smith says (tentatively) that 2017 feels better than 2012 because his team was the best all year, won the minor premiership clearly, and won the premiership in a perfect farewell to Cronk.
Their tears, hugs and smiles showed how much it meant.
To me, it stamps the legacy and legend of “Bellyache and the Big Three”.
The grand final was a masterclass in attack and defence by the Storm as they dismantled the Cowboys 34-6, six tries to one, seven line breaks to two.
Dejected Cowboys players look on as the Storm enjoy their post-game success. (AAP: Craig Golding)
The damage was done in the first half.
Jesse Bromwich had already made one break before the Cowboys’ magic dust ran out. Friendly fire broke Shaun Fensom’s leg after only four minutes and Te Maire Martin, chasing a run away Josh Addo-Carr, got tangled with a referee.
When you’re out of luck, you can’t bat-back a bomb anywhere near Will Chambers and “The Fox”.
Then, on the back of repeat sets, two gloriously executed plays between Cronk, Slater and Felise Kaufusi had Cowboys’ left centre Justin O’Neill in a nightmare guessing game.
Three tries and 18-0 at half-time were only half the story.
The Cowboys’ big guns had been disarmed.
The Storm’s powerful, technical defence stopped Jason Taumalolo in his tracks. Last week he had 21 runs for 256 metres, this week 12 runs for 124 metres. Fellow big men Scott Bolton and Coen Hess also failed to make headway.
Under pressure, Michael Morgan was launching bombs from close to half-way and Melbourne’s back three were catching all of them.
Blunted but mistake-free the Cowboys had plenty of possession but rarely the position or platform from which to attack.
The second half began with the Storm clumsily conceding four penalties in a row and a fired up North Queensland made them pay with Martin’s try.
But forced to press harder, the gallant Cowboys gave up three handling errors and two tries to Melbourne’s Dale Finucane and Curtis Scott.
In a complete team performance, the Big Three had their fingerprints and bootmarks all over the execution of the plan. They figured directly in four of the six tries but saved the showstopper till last.
Cronk and Smith combined for Slater to slice through before a spectacular long pass from Tohu Harris for Addo-Carr’s second try and the celebrations began.
The Churchill Medal could have gone to any of the three amigos. Captain Smithy must have gone close to another gong to go with his Dally M but who can deny the thrilling comeback from injury of the winner, Billy the Kid?
So the season climaxes in triumph for the Melbourne Storm. And what an enthralling season!
At the end, the Cowboys fought from eighth spot past the Sharks, Eels and Roosters to the grand final to meet the Storm who overcame the Eels and Broncos.
Yes, it was a packed 30-week season but it’s over. That’s OK. I’m looking forward to a change. I love summer. I love the long, warm, lazier days. I can’t wait to go to the beach and dive into the ocean.
And there’s a feast of sport ahead: Bathurst, Melbourne Cup, Australian Open Golf, the Ashes and the Aussie Open Tennis.
Summer is a season free of concocted rugby league drama. Free of trivial incidents that won’t change the world but make back-page headlines. I will have so much more time to do other things, whatever they might be. To contemplate the meaning of life and things that matter. Things like…
Actually I really don’t know what I’ll do with all that spare time.
But hang on, the Rugby League World Cup begins in 24 days. Fantastic. Problem solved.
We might even see the big three in action together again, this time in green and gold.