NRL: Storm premiers after defensive showdown with Bulldogs

The Melbourne Storm has won the 2012 NRL premiership after defeating the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 14-4 in Sunday night’s Grand Final.

In front of a record crowd of 82,976 at ANZ stadium, the Storm won their 2nd official premiership to cap off a remarkable comeback by the club, who just 3 years ago stood on the brink of collapse after the infamous salary cap scandal.

In a match where defences shone and controversy reigned, Melbourne stood above all overs, withstanding the immense pressure from the Dogs in a low scoring affair as Ryan Hoffman, Billy Slater and Justin O’Neill all scored tries for the Storm. Sam Perrett had the only 4 points for the Bulldogs.

Their superstar trio of Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater once again proved to be the edge with Cronk taking home the Clive Churchill medal for best on ground after setting up two of the Storm’s three tries.

Melbourne, playing in their fifth grand final since 2006, settled quickly after a wayward Billy Slater pass was almost intercepted by Perrett for the first try of the match.

Hoffman was the first to score on the left side in the 7th minute, breaking through an Josh Reynolds tackle to put Melbourne on the board after a scintillating pass for five-eighth Gareth Widdop. Captain Smith continued on his poor kicking form from the previous week, missing the conversion.

Canterbury then went on to absorb enormous pressure from the Storm over the next 10 minutes, after Ben Barba dropped in the end goal and had it run dead. The Dogs withstood 24 tackles straight from the Storm before Smith opted to take a penalty shot, again missing.

Released from the Melbourne barrage, Canterbury went on the attack and eventually Perrett scored in the 25th minute in the right corner off a kick from Kristian Inu to tie the game up at 4 apiece.

All hell broke loose from there as the Bulldogs disagreed with the way Slater tackled Perrett in the end zone, sparking an all in brawl.

The match was halted for 5 minutes as referees Tony Archer and Ben Cummins sorted through the try and forthcoming allegations.

Billy Slater came up with a bloodied ear claiming that Bulldog James Graham had bitten him. Graham was put on report and video footage of the incident is damning for the big forward.

However Slater had the last laugh as he went over to score a try off a brilliant double pump pass from Cooper Cronk in the 32nd minute. Smith finally kicked truly to send the score to 10-4.

Cronk seized the game in both hands in the shadow of halftime, sending a pinpoint kick down into the left corner, where O’Neill outjumped Barba and scored to put Melbourne up 14-4 at half time.

Justin O’Neill celebrates his try

Canterbury came out with great intent to start the second half, possessing the ball for 5 straight sets, just as Melbourne had similarly done to open the first half. Once again, the defence held firm, with Smith holding up Bulldogs captain Michael Ennis in the end goal to deny the Bulldogs a chance to score.

Barba starting to show glimpses of the form that won him the Dally M medal as he used his speed to run around the Storm defence. He teamed up with Josh Morris to effectively break the lines twice to try and provide the try the Dogs so desperately needed.

However, the Storm defence was more than up to the challenge, preventing the Dogs from scoring on both occasions.

Canterbury’s best chance in the second half came in the 61st minute when Barba put a kick inside for Morris who couldn’t get a handle on the ball as he came within 10 metres of the line, knocking it on. Regardless of the knock on, Slater channelled his inner AFL star to spoil the ball away as Morris went to score.

Cronk almost created another try off his boot in the 69th minute when Slater knocked the ball back from under the uprights to Bryan Norrie, who would’ve scored a rare try if he wasn’t offside on the kick.

The pressure of Melbourne began to shown in the closing stages as the Bulldogs turned the ball over three times in the closing minutes to allow Melbourne to coast to their 3rd grand final win in the past 6 seasons.

“Premierships are won of defence,” said Slater after the game. “That’s what we’ve built our game, since I’ve been at the club, since Craig’s (Bellamy) been at the club and it was special today.”

The premiership is a testimony to the work ethic and culture of the Storm, who to win a premiership 24 months after being torn apart by the salary cap scandal is a phenomenal effort.

Everyone in purple played their role to perfection in getting the premiership cup back to Melbourne.

‘I couldn’t be prouder of the way the team performed tonight under these conditions with so much against you,” said Smith in the press conference. “It’s about the 17 that go out there and play as a team, that’s what we’ve done in the last 8 weeks and its paid off for us.”

Smith couldn’t have kicked the ball any worse on Sunday, going 1 from 5 place kicks, following on from his 3 from 6 effort against Manly.

Cameron Smith misses another set kick

The players were quick to downplay any thought of the premiership being vindication of the salary cap scandal, but one couldn’t help but imagine how satisfied the Storm must be feeling going home to Melbourne.

This result marks the first time a Melbourne team has won the NRL grand final and a Sydney team has won the AFL grand final.

Ben Sathananthan is a first year Sports Journalism student at Latrobe University. You can follow his twitter at: @bensathsports

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