It looked like it was going to be a comfortable victory for the Melbourne Storm heading into the final fifteen minutes. They were leading 22-6 thanks to tries to Ryan Hoffman, Adam Blair, Greg Inglis and Billy Slater, and had even snuffed out Eric Grothe’s would-be comeback-igniter with Slater’s effort. Turns out the Eels just needed to find a second wind, which they did thanks to tries to Joel Reddy and an absolute barnstorming run from Fuifui Moimoi during which I’m pretty sure he would’ve knocked a hippo out of the way. In the end though Moimoi was adjudged to be the villain, accused by the referee of stealing the ball from Slater when all the evidence seemed to show his innocence. In the end, the penalty was enough to take the Storm deep into Parramatta territory, and Greg Inglis relieved his teammates by popping over a drop goal to take the Storm that crucial second score further from the Eels.
If Parramatta had managed to succeed with their late surge, it would have been the ultimate example of an underserving team scraping a victory because apart from that ten-minute spell they were completely dominated by the Storm. The Eels’ run to the Grand Final had been built on dominating in the forwards and utilising the momentum in the 2nd phase. The one problem was it seemed quite obvious that they weren’t going to bully the Storm around like they had the Dragons, Titans and Bulldogs. In fact, the Storm played it almost note-perfect, swarming the Eeels and taking the big shots when they could (special kudos to Adam Blair who seemed to make it his personal mission to show the Eels they wouldn’t have everything their own way). They also exploited their attacking opportunities perfectly, and they had a telepathic knowledge of where the support runners would be. I’m also amazed Cooper Cronk didn’t win the Churchill Medal, because he operated the Melbourne machine with pilot-like precision and was at the heart of their scoring (he set up three of four tries). Still, Billy Slater didn’t do too badly either so I won’t begrudge him his medal.
The Eels tried hard, but they just couldn’t break the Storm down apart from that magical spell. Nathan Hindmarsh made 64 tackles. 64! That’s a tackle every 75 seconds. That’s straight-up insane and a fantastic example of Hindmarsh’s extreme work ethic, but the fact he had to make so many tackles is indicative of the fact that the Eels weren’t on the front foot enough, which unfortunately for them is essential for their jazz-style of rugby to work. Fuifui Moimoi was also full of energy, but the Storm did a good job of containing him (if not stopping him). The fact that Jarryd Hayne didn’t really have all that much of a chance to show his talents was indicative of the Eels’ failings, and also indicative of a smart gameplan from the Storm who didn’t let him into the game. His face after his knock-on at the end of the game was that of a frustrated man unable to shape the game his way for the first time in a month. It also didn’t help that their final tackle options and kicking game could be generously called ‘godawful’.
And so the Storm win their second Grand Final in four years, having been in the final game in all those seasons as well, which cements their reputation as the Rugby League dynasty over the past decade – not bad going considering the club is barely a decade old anyway. Greg Inglis hasn’t played a full season and not reached the Grand Final yet, and with their Toyota Cup side winning that competition (with an English full-back, Gareth Widdop, who might find himself getting international recognition soon) it looks like they’ll be up there for the next few years at least. As for Parramatta, it’s not a bad effort for Daniel Anderson’s first year in charge, and now they have the experience of going this far they should be the wiser for the experience. Of course, to go that one further they’ll have to go through the Storm, not to mention all the other teams in the NRL who will have looked to improve. It should be fun next year.