Eleven years the Melbourne Storm have been in existence. Nine finals appearances they have made. Until this year, they had reached four grand finals and won two of them. Make that, now, three from five as they defeated Parrematta, 23-16, tonight at Australia stadium in Sydney in the 2009 NRL grand final.
A remarkable achievement, it must be said. Done too, in an era where the salary cap can be rather taxing on teams that have success. Melbourne have lost some extremely talented players because of their success, yet still manage to succeed despite it.
Tonight, in front of 82538 mainly Parrematta fans, Melbourne put in a clinical display. No frills football was the order of the day for them. It worked a treat, too. They played from in front for the whole match. While never completely putting the Eels away, Parrematta were forced to play catch up time and again. A sound kicking game, backed up by a faultless chase, time after time. Not only this, but, Melbourne contained Parrematta danger man, Jarred Hayne, for the full eighty minutes. So well, that Hayne never fired a shot. So too, FuiFui Moi Moi. Well, at least for the first half. Moi Moi was inspirational in Parrematta's second half comeback. But more of that later. Oh, and a referee's decision. What is a grand final without a whiff of controversy.
It took Melbourne only four minutes to get on the scoreboard. After having forced Parrematta into a goal-line dropout, they spread the ball wide to their left side attack, where Brett Finch put Ryan Hoffman into a gap, which he made the most of by charging twenty metres to score. With Cameron Smith's sideline conversion, Melbourne were 6-0 up.
This was the perfect start for Melbourne, and their previous finals experience seemed to be paying dividends. They were making good metres on each set of six without any costly errors. Parrematta, on the flip side, seemed a touch nervous and were making hard work of denting the Storm's defence. Not helping, also, was their kicking game which lacked any semblance of organisation or accuracy.
To their credit though, they did start to get on an even footing with the Storm. Maybe not on the scoreboard, but at least they were making forays into Melbourne's territory.
Problem was, though, that just as they had been looking more likely, Cooper Cronk made their life even tougher, when he through a dummy, broke the defensive line and passed back on the inside to Adam Blair, who gratefully took possession of the ball to race twenty metres to score in the right side corner.
A 10-nil lead which the Storm consolidated until half-time. It was a solid half of football from Melbourne, and a nervous one from Parrematta. Those nerves dissapated somewhat for Parrematta in the second half. And, this is where it gets entertaining. So, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, get yourselves some liquid refreshments, a light snack or three, find your seats and be prepared to be dazzled.
Parrematta had to score first in the second half to have any chance of pulling off a victory. Enter fuifui Moi Moi. If the UN weapons inspectors think they have got problems in Iran, they've seen nothing yet. Get them down to Australia, for there is a suspicion that there is a weapon of mass destruction being made. His name is Fuifui Moi Moi. It only took a couple of minutes for suspicions to grow, as Moi Moi rocked Brett White with a bone crunching tackle. This seemed to lift Parrematta, for in the 45th minute, Feleti Mataeo makes a forty metre dash down field. The Eels forge ahead towards the Storm's twenty metre line, where they go wide to their right side attack, finding Eric Grothe, who barges his way through three Melbourne defenders to score. Only six points down now, Parrematta seemed to be back in the match. But this was typical of their night. No sooner had they fought their way back, they relinquished their intensity. Greg Inglis was mighty thankful, too, in the 49th minute, as he regathered a Cooper Cronk bomb, under no pressure from any Parrematta defenders and strolled over to score under the crossbar. With the conversion, then another converted try to Billy Slater six minutes later, the match seemed to be Melbourne's for the taking.
To Parrematta's credit though, they did not give up. It took fifteen minutes, but the Storm seemed to be tiring, when Joel Reddy soars like an eagle to gather a last tackle kick from Jeff Robson, and score.
Where there is life, there is hope. Moi Moi certainly thought so. Not content to soley be a battering ram and make explosive tackles, Moi Moi decided to extend his range of capabilities to scoring twenty-five metre individualistic efforts. A fine one, too. And an effort that got his team within six points of Melbourne to trail 22-16.
The referees, Tony Archer and Shane Hayne had, until this point, a mistake free match. In the 76th minute, however, Archer awarded a penalty to Melbourne for a strip in the tackle. Melbourne gleefully took this opportunity to make their way down into Parrematta's red zone, where Greg Inglis calmly slotted a field goal to give his team a seven point lead and a 23-16 victory. Replays showed clearly that the penalty was wrongly given, when a knock-on should have been awarded.
Luck, though, is part of any sport at times, and Melbourne were good enough to cash in on the good fortune that came their way. That is what good teams do. Not to mention, surviving what very nearly ended up being their very own nuclear winter.