- Storm claim premiership with convincing 34-6 win
- The 2017 NRL grand final at ANZ Stadium – in pictures
- Billy Slater wins Churchill medal; refuses to confirm future plans
The Melbourne Storm lived up to their billing as hot favourites by putting on a near faultless performance tonight. Rocked by the early loss of Shaun Fensom – and hobbled by Johnathan Thurston’s absence – the Cowboys were always a step behind, the Storm’s defence keeping them away from their danger zone and forcing converted half Michael Morgan to bomb hopefully – and ultimately hopelessly.
Craig Bellamy and the Storm are now called onto the stage. Cameron Smith then takes his turn at the mic and praises the Cowboys for making the decider under trying circumstances. He thanks the crowd, and there is certainly a sizeable Storm contingent hanging about still. He then thanks the club staff and coaches and their families, and the families of the players.
“To all the players, not only the 17 here, but the rest of the group, it’s been a pleasure to be part of this year. It’s been hard work but we put to bed early what happened here last year.”
Losing captain Gavin Cooper takes the stage and congratulates “Smith and Bellyache [Bellamy]” and the rest of the Storm. He praises the Cowboys’ supporters and tells his teammates he’s proud of their efforts. He wraps up wishing Cronk and Slater all the best.
Slater named Churchill Medallist
I would have had Smith a nose ahead but can’t argue with the announcement just now that Billy Slater is this year’s Clive Churchill medal. What a comeback season he’s had when it looked as if his career was in jeopardy. He watched last season’s decider from the sidelines and now he’s up on the dais failing to hold back the tears. Today’s effort: 170m, one try and a try assist.
Craig Bellamy is going between the players and the affection and gratitude the players feel towards him is so apparent. What an influence he has had on the Storm since taking over from Mark Murray in 2003.
Cooper Cronk: “There are no fairytales in rugby league. It’s just about working hard and hoping the results come your way. I don’t know what I’d be if it wasn’t for the Storm. I’ve nothing but gratitude to the people who have played a part. The club has been a big influence on my career and me as a person. Melbourne Storm makes you bigger than you are, better than you are.”
On playing with Slater and Smith? “They are reliable. I don’t think Cameron Smith has thrown me a bad pass in my career. And Billy has never let me down. I’d like to think we inspired each other to keep working hard. Unfortunately this is the last time we’ll do it together.”
Michael Morgan: “They are a very good side. The best at breaking a team down. Once they get ahead they really grind it out. We spoke about needing points early [in the second half] and we got that but we couldn’t sustain the pressure and they scored again.”
[A good season?] “I’m proud but it hurts. It now feels like a waste of a season to be honest. You’ve come this far and we were a little bit embarrassed tonight. But the score doesn’t reflect the effort we put in this season.”
Billy Slater is collared for the first time today: “It’s a lot of hard work to be as consistent as we were all year It’s a great performance.”
Reflecting on missing last year’s grand final due to injury he lets a tear slip: “I didn’t know if I’d get back here. Whether my body would let me. It was the toughest thing to sit through last year, being helpless. I wasn’t going to let that happen today [as his daughter and son rush to embrace him].
What a comprehensive win to the Storm who delightedly embrace as the Cowboys collapse in a heap. The Big 3 were simply outstanding.
80 min: The Storm take their time with their final set and it’s Smith tackled with the ball as the hooter goes.
79 min: Granville circles looking for an opening but none appears. Coote then kicks inside where Cronk claims the ball and dives to the deck just inside the field of play. Not bothering with rules Granville simply drags Cronk into the in-goal giving away a penalty.
78 min: After taking a bomb Addo-Carr is driven over the sideline giving the Cowboys the ball from 25m out.
77 min: Craig Bellamy has come down from his box to celebrate with his players on the sideline.
A tough one from the left for a leftie, but Smith is having the kind of game that makes the difficult look easy.
In centre field, Smith passes right to Cronk who passes straight back to Smith. Smith then finds Slater on the fly back on the inside. Slater races into the clear and though Coote brings him down, Harris finds himself with the ball and he makes a mighty long pass to his left and hits Addo-Carr on the chest. The wonderful winger as a five-metre trot to complete his try double!
71 min: The game is at such a state that the commentators have time to muse on what Slater and Cooper might do after the game. Retire on top or play on.
Meantime, Morgan puts up another bomb that Vunivalu catches in his own in-goal. Granville smacks the ball out of his hand as he strolls forward to take the 20m restart. Penalty to the Storm.
70 min: We enter the final 10 minutes with the result wrapped up. The Cowboys will do well now to keep the deficit to its current level.
… and offloads to 19-year-old centre Curtis Scott who has a clear run to the line!
66 min: That try, you’d imagine, has ended any hopes of a Cowboys comeback.
Yep, that’s for sure. Working the ball out from his own line, Linnett is tackled by Addo-Carr who pilfers the ball …
Easy peasy for Smith who is firming as Churchill Medallist.
Smith receives the ball at dummy half, the Cowboys’ line metres away. The Storm are lined up on the right deeper than the Mariana Trench. But Smith passes to Finucane at first receiver and he charges over between the attempted tackles of Cooper and Hampton!
63 min: As the Storm prepare to feed a scrum 35m out, the crowd figure comes in: 79,722. “Well done,” says Rabbits Warren.
61 min: But that’s a set they’ll wish they could take back. A tame five tackles before an even tamer crossfield kick on the last. Vunivalu catches with little pressure.
60 min: The Cowboys keep the ball alive on the last and the Storm knock on trying to gain possession. A fresh set to the Cowboys from 20m out.
58 min: A rare error by Smith who grubbers dead on the last.
The Cowboys are still in this. They’ve picked up the pace and a try now could really give the Storm the willies. And not in a way that would trouble Bob Katter.
57 min: Munster is hit hard by Ben Hampton who lifts Munster and slams him on his back. Munster objects and there’s a bit of push and shove, Slater and Taumalolo holding each other by the collar. The Storm are awarded a penalty but I’m not sure why. Munster wasn’t hit high nor lifted above the horizontal.
56 min: Cronk bombs and is hit by Taumalolo. I can think of better things to be hit by. A car, for instance. Coote takes the ball under enormous pressure and cops a knock. He gets to his feet slowly.
55 min: Chambers stretches the Cowboys’ defence out wide after some excellent lead up work by Smith. He gets within 10m before passing inside to … Michael Morgan tracking back.
53 min: Second half completion rates: 9/9 Cowboys, 4/4 Storm.
Oh dear, make that 9/10 for the Cowboys. Lowe attempts a silly offload just inside the Storm half when his team still had a couple of tackles up their sleeve.
51 min: The intensity, which didn’t seem to be lacking, has lifted a notch. The crowd are really willing the Cowboys on. Not just because Melbourne as a ferris wheel (see earlier, pre-kick off comment) but because they want a game made of this.
Lowe adds the extras giving Cowboys fans a little hope.
From a tap on the Storm line Morgan draws Smith as he passes to Te Maire Martin on his inside. Martin has an age to step inside the first defender and run in an easy try!
47 min: The Cowboys go left, they go right, and Feldt is tackled on the third before the Townsvillians are awarded yet another penalty for interference in the tackle (which sounds like something the ‘No’ crowd would have feared as a result of the Macklemore set). Surely the sin-bin must come into play?
46 min: Here’s another penalty to the Storm for holding on. This one 10m out from their own posts. And as soon as they take the tap Slater holds down the tackled player and is penalised. Three on the trot.
45 min: Granville finds Cooper who muscles to the half on the fourth tackle before the Storm are pinged for holding down too long. What can the Cowboys do with a rare full set inside the Storm’s 30m?
44 min: More solid defence from the Storm forces the Cowboys to kick from their own half. Another huge swirling Morgan bomb, another catch from Vunivalu.
42 min: The Cowboys run it on the last, scooting down the blindside before a short grubber than Addo-Carr snaffles safely. It didn’t work out, but that’s the kind of thing they’ll need to try more of this half if they are to have any chance.
41 min: The Cowboys kick off, a mountain to climb.
What hope the Cowboys, folks? It’s looking grim. Despite an excellent completion rate by the Cowboys, this is the largest half-time deficit in a decider since 2001 when the Knights led the Eels 24-0. They went on to win 30-24. For the sake of an exciting finish we can only hope for a similar second-half effort from the Cowboys.
But they’ll have to get over the advantage line a lot more often. Jason Taumalolo, for instance, has just 68 run metres for the first 40. Cameron Smith has 95.
Some entertainment during the break.
Great grand final tries? Why not? I’ll be back in a sec…
Hard to see the Cowboys winning from here. The Storm have been clinical and their big three have been instrumental. To think, Mark Murray brought them to the Storm all these years ago for about $5000 each. Reckon they’ve paid that off already.
The Cowboys have barely had an attacking set from inside the Storm’s 30m. The Storm’s defence has kept them at arm’s length all night. They’ll need something very special now.
40 min: Just on the siren Kyle Feldt gets the crowd to its feet with to a tackle-busting run that sees him eat up 60m. But he’s brought down eventually and the two teams go to the sheds.
From just to the right of the posts Smith makes it 18.
Smith, in dummy half under the posts, passes right to Cronk. He takes advantage of a dummy run from Kaufusi to find Slater running in behind. Slater dummies to his right to get an edge on O’Neill and he runs it in for a try. The Storm flock to him like seagulls to an AAMI Park bathed in floodlights.
37 min: Oh dear. Winterstein, on his own line, attacks a Smith grubber with gusto and he spills the ball in doing so. He could have waited and collected it in his in-goal in relative safety but his attempt to avoid a drop-out has resulted in giving the Storm a great chance to stick the knife in on the verge of halftime.
36 min: Another high bomb from Morgan on the last that Vunivalu takes safely enough. The Cowboys’ last tackle options have been fairly predictable kicks but that’s mostly because they’ve never quite been close enough to run it, bar the once.
33 min: On the last, 50m out, Cronk grubbers through the line and Chambers regathers. He keeps the ball alive and hands off to Slater. He’s tackled but finds a pass himself. Smith is then forced to dive on a loose ball and that’s the turnover. Had the Storm got the ball wide left they would have found themselves in more space than Sandra Bullock in Gravity.
31 min: Cronk is collected in mid-air after kicking downfield. I missed who the tackler was but he was as late, and not politely late either. Should have been a penalty.
The Storm are right on top now and the Cowboys need to steady lest the game slips right away from them.
From almost an identical position from where he took his first conversion Smith makes no mistake.
The big three play a role into putting a big one over the line! Smith from dummy half, 20m out, passes right to Cronk who, after straightening the attack, passes right to Slater. He draws the defence and puts Kaufusi into a hole from a few metres out!
27 min: On the last Cronk fires the ball inside to Smith who, seeing nothing on, dinks the ball into the in-goal where Coote is tackled cleaning up. Drop out. The pressure builds.
25 min: By his standards, Cronk puts in an ordinary kick on the last that Feldt takes easily without a Storm player near him.
24 min: Morgan’s angled kick across the face of goal is taken by Chambers in the in-goal and his quick restart gets the Storm to the Cowboys’s 30m on just the third tackle.
23min: We’ve just had the game’s first penalty, this one to the Cowboys which gives them a good platform to hit right back.
From 10m inside the right touchline Smith steers it over.
It wasn’t Morgan, but Martin. And he did run into the ref but that is deemed nothing more than bad luck. Try it is!
19 min: Morgan bombs from inside the Storm’s 30m and the ball is tapped sideways by Cooper but it falls into the arms of Will Chambers who comes back inside, beating three players, before he finds Addo-Carr on his inside. With a swerve he bursts into the clear and streaks away 70m to score what looks like a fair try!
We’re going upstairs. The Cowboys feel that Morgan was impeded form tackling Addo-Carr by referee Cechin.
17 min: A half-bust by Smith gets the Storm over the half-way line before Cronk grubbers to the sideline. Munster collided with Smith in the buildup and went down but he appears to be okay.
Phi Withall writes in: “For possibly the first and last time I’m in agreement with the channel 9 commentary team. The impact of the [Fensom] injury has such a huge effect on his teammates. I’ve seen quite a few nasty injuries in kitchens and know how hard it is to keep on working when someone is suffering from a serious injury.”
15 min: On the last, inside the Storm 10m, Morgan declines to kick, and instead fires a flat ball out to Linnett who arrives too early and is forced to catch and turn, backing into the defence. Turnover.
13 min: After Slater is hammered on a kick return, the Storm turn it over on the half. Finally some field position for the Cowboys.
12 min: The Storm pound the Cowboys’ line but here’s a relieving turnover for the Cowboys, Lowe coming up with the pill.
11 min: Cronk on the Cowboys’ 30m runs right before he angles a devilish grubber back towards the post. Slater is tearing after it like a greyhound … And he might well have won the race too had the ball not hit the right post and rebounded into the arms of Ethan Lowe.
10 min: Who flinches first? The Cowboys, says Wally Lewis, after Morgan grubbers across the touchline around the Storm 30m allowing both teams a breather.
8 min: Some quick play-the-balls sees the Storm edge to the half from their own 10m before Smith almost pulls off a 40-20, but the bobbling ball is rounded up just inside the stripe.
6 min: Morgan passes inside to Taumalolo who bends the line before being pushed back by three men in purple. Morgan bombs again, Slater takes.
The Storm have had the better of territory so far but neither team has yet to enjoy an attacking set inside the other’s 30m zone.
A few pictures from the opening exchanges, prior to the injury break
5 min: Fensom is finally leaving the field, on his back in the medicab. He gives the crowd the thumbs up as he goes.
The play back on, the Cowboys push up the right flank before a towering Morgan bomb almost gets away from Vunivalu who leans in to take it like someone about to topple into a swimming pool.
4 min: Replays show that Coote did very well during that Bromwich bust. He had Bromwich running at him but he drifted to his right to cover a pass to Munster who was backing up, knowing that Granville was in position to take Bromwich. Seeing Coote do just that Bromwich decided to go it alone.
As may be obvious Fensom is still being treated.
So cruel on Shaun Fenson. His grand final over after 180 seconds #NRLGF
4 min: Cronk goes to the line and, on the 30m line, puts Jesse Bromwich through a hole. He busts through the first attempts at tackle before he’s brought down on the 10m by Granville and he loses the ball as he hits the deck.
Cowboy Shaun Fensom has been injured in that tackle. Poor bloke. Opening minutes. The medicab is on the field and it appears Fensom has done something serious to his knee.
3 min: Tohu ‘Tofu’ Harris busy for the Storm as they pummel the Cowboys and force them to kick from inside their own half.
2 min: Coote gets a kick away, as he slips, after a reasonably expansive first set. Slater takes it safely but then slips himself as he approaches the defensive line.
1 min: Cameron Smith kicks off and Scott Bolton takes the ball safely, no doubt saying “Thank God” to himself as he does so.
Experienced NRL followers would have realised that the scheduled 7.15pm kickoff was never going to happen and they’ve been proven correct.
But at long last here come the two teams, first the Cowboys in their washed-out grey strip. Now the Storm – after a longish wait. Cameron Smith leads them out, slapping the hands of young fans leaning over the race. I like that. I often wonder why more players don’t do that. Costs them nothing in terms of effort and means a lot to the kids.
For the Cowboys this game is about who’s not there. For the Storm it’s about who is. And this will be the 232nd (and last) match Slater, Cronk and Smith have played together. So far they have a win percentage of 73.2%. Incredible.
Cronk has yet to decide where he’s headed in 2018. There’s talk too that Slater will call it a day if the Storm win tonight. Cameron Smith, an iron man who is seemingly never injured, looks certain to go on and plague the opposition for at least another season.
Now that the entertainment is done and dusted we can think again about the game. Here are the teams:
Macklemore’s set has finished. I can’t say I’ve seen any resulting moral decay, like little boys suddenly downloading Barba Streisand songs on their mother’s smart phones or people proposing marriage to bridges or assorted public monuments. That said, I’ll be sure to inform you if anything like this starts to happen so you can beat the rush and head out to buy more baked beans and bottled water for your panic rooms.
Macklemore is now performing Same Love. The lights are down, smart phones are raised.
Here comes Macklemore in a silver jacket, white t-shirt, black jeans and boots. For some reason ex-Dragon Matt Cooper opened the dressing room door for him. Macklemore skips and dances from beneath the stands (where he high fives Johnathan Thurston) to centre stage around which a young crowd cheers enthusiastically.
Putting all the controversy aside I must admit he was an odd choice for the GF. A spoken word performance isn’t exactly the kind of thing that gets a crowd’s blood pumping is it? It’s not Cold Chisel is it?
The pre-game entertainment will soon get underway. Now there’s no Tina Turner tonight but going by this photo the theme wasn’t all that different in 1990:
Craig Bellamy speaks to Channel Nine:
“We’re a little bit nervous. But that’s a good thing. It heightens the senses.”
The 2017 season has proven to be the last for a good number of players and a number of good players, and they are being appreciated now in front of the crowd.
Here’s the full list: Matt Ballin (Wests Tigers), Jeff Lima, Dane Tilse (Canberra Raiders), Ray Thompson, Ben Hannant (North Queensland Cowboys), Rory Kostjasyn, Anthony Tupou (Newcastle Knights), Jeff Robson, Isaac De Gois (Parramatta Eels), Feleti Mateo (Manly Warringah Sea Eagles), David Shillington, Daniel Vidot (Gold Coast Titans), Bryson Goodwin (South Sydney Rabbitohs), and Matt White (Melbourne Storm).
There have been two lower grade grand finals played earlier today.
In the first of these, the Holden Cup (u20s) grand final, Manly came back from an early deficit of 14-0. Manly then got back to 14-all before the Eels retook the lead with a try taking them out to 18-14 with just over 10 minutes remaining. But in what would be the last play of the game, Manly hooker Manase Fainu found a charging Keith Titmuss who scored adjacent to the posts. Centre Tevita Funa then added the extras seconds before the full-time hooter.
RL:Penrith rout PNG for NRL interstate title
By Steve Zemek
SYDNEY, Oct 1 AAP – Penrith have spoiled Papua New Guinea’s Cinderella story with a 42-18 rout in the NRL Interstate Championship at ANZ Stadium on Sunday.
The NSW Cup premiers ran riot with the game effectively over at 38-2 at halftime after Tony Santini ran in four tries in the first 40 minutes.
The victory was yet another feather in the cap for coach Garth Brennan who was amassed two NSW Cup titles and an under-20s premiership win during his time at the foot of the mountains.
Brennan is one of the leading contenders for the vacant Gold Coast NRL coaching job and sent a loud and resounding message with the eight tries to three tries flogging.
The Hunters came into the match as the feelgood story after winning the first piece of silverware in last week’s Queensland Cup grand final against the Sunshine Coast.
However the side from the rugby league-mad island nation was outclassed and overpowered.
The Hunters struck first with a penalty goal through Ase Boas however former Manly outside back Santini ran in three tries in seven minutes to put his side on top.
Halfback Darren Nicholls was also outstanding, stretching the Hunters defence and crossing under the posts to make it 22-2 after 21 minutes.
After Panthers five-eighth Jarome Luai was sin-binned for a professional foul in the 67th minute, the Hunters ran in consolation tries through Adex Wera and Bland Abavu and Boas.
A few years ago I wrote this piece about some of the more memorable Australian rugby league grand finals:
With about an hour until kickoff the crowd is building. Will it be a sell-out tonight? Will it matter if it isn’t? TV ratings, I’m sure, will be through the roof:
There’s plenty to read ahead of the game. Why not Matt Cleary’s take on Cowboys’ enforcer Scott Bolton?
Good evening, folks.
Is it really a year since the Cronulla Sharks switched the porch light off, broke a long premiership drought and messed with the natural order to such an extent that (unless it was just a coincidence which, I suppose, we have to at least consider) it triggered a year of plague, pestilence and political putrescence across the globe?
Paul will be here shorty. In the meantime, here’s his very own grand final preview: