Pretenders and Contenders Part 2: The Always but not quite.

BY DAN

The Melbourne Storm are the most consistent side in Australian sport. They’ve made the finals every year since Bellamy took over 2003. They’ve won 3 premierships in that time, along with 4 minor premierships. [1] Losing on Saturday to the Cowboys meant they could not add to that tally. Since their redemptive premiership in 2012, they’ve proven their consistency – always threatening in the finals, but never quite making it all the way again. They will return to this stage again.

These guys. Very good.
These guys. Very good.

Saturday’s nights destruction was no shame for the Storm. We had considered the Storm and the Cowboys to be roughly equal sides this year. Despite the Cowboys finishing slightly higher on the ladder, both sides Pythagorean Expectation win count was roughly equal (the Storm’s was 16, the Cowboys was 15.5). Make no mistake, the Storm was not simply part of the Cowboy’s parade to the grand final.

But on Saturday, the Storm ran into a BuzzSaw masquerading as a football team and managed to hold on. From the outset of the game it was clear that the Cowboy’s sharp attack was going to be a problem for the Storm, particularly on the Storm’s defensive edges. Only the ongoing ‘obstruction saga’ stopped a possible try early in the game. After that, Thurston decided to use Michael Morgan and Justin O’Neill to attack the left edge of the Storm defence. It resulted in two tries and three line breaks to O’Neill, two more tries and 136 all run metres to Morgan and three try assists to Thurston. Make no mistake – this was as close to unstoppable as an edge attack can be.

Thurston: Football Genius.
Thurston: Football Genius.

The Storm were also trampled in the middle of the park. They got very little position from a pack that was dominated across the park. In the middle, Bromwich, McLean, Hinchcliffe et al were punished repeatedly by the Cowboys props. Scott (202 all run metres), Tamou (137m), and Taumalolo (171m) were unabated by the Storm. On the edges Cooper (two line breaks and a try) and Ethan Lowe (175m) proved a handful. Only interchange forward Dale Finucane managed over 100m for the Storm.

But in the face of a dominant forward pack and an almost unstoppable Cowboys assault on their left edge, the Storm held on as well they could. The subtle brilliance of Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk created tries out of seemingly nothing, and kept the Storm in a game that they were outgained by over 500 metres. When they got the ball in attacking position, they played the same face-balls that they have perfected over the last decade. Cronk used one to put in Harris late in the first half. Smith used a similar ball to get Cronk outside of Cooper, and his quick step resulted in the first try of the game.

And so the final dagger went in when Storm winger Koroibete lost his nerve, rubbing salt into the wound of the likely winning try being scored on him by managing to get 10 in the bin in the process.[2] Then a charge-down became a try and it was all over in a matter of minutes. A final try to Cooper meant the score wasn’t close, which up until Koroibete’s sin-binning it had been.

The Storm will walk away this season disappointed. One must ask how much time do Slater (32 years old), Smith (32) and Cronk (31) have left (not to mention Bellamy). The best spine and the best coach have returned 3 premierships from 5 grand final appearances in the last 10 years. It’s impressive, and there was no shame in not adding to those counts this season. The clock is ticking on the Storm, but for now they will remain a contender.


[1] Yup but the cheating thing right? Yeah don’t really care. They didn’t gain any advantage that the Roosters or the Broncos don’t have every week.

[2] For the record, he should have got 10 in the bin. Change the rules if you want, but they got that right.

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