Storm finish off dominant season in expected fashion
The Melbourne Storm lost just four games all year and only two of them occurred when the Storm fielded the Holy Trinity of Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith. Not even when the Storm had their salary cap dramas did they pull off such a dominant season.
They were the benchmark of the competition all season and midway through the year there were many calls from experts that it was a race to see who would finish runner-up.
That prediction coming true did make for a somewhat uneventful grand final. As remarkable as the Cowboys’ run to the grand final was, they were never expected to pose much of a threat to a Storm side looking to send Cronk out on a high.
The hype of previous years for maiden premierships and long droughts broken wasn’t present in 2017 and things pretty much turned out as expected. That doesn’t take anything away from the Storm’s incredible season and they will be looked back on in history as one of the most dominant clubs ever.
Cowboys up against it from the opening minutes
The Cowboys had a monumentally tough task ahead of them to try and take down the Storm, but it was just about game over after three minutes when Shaun Fensom went down with an injury that halted play for nearly 10 minutes. He fell awkwardly in a tackle and his leg collapsed under it in what was a gruesome sight.
Not only did it leave the Cowboys a man down for 77 minutes but Fensom’s defence and ability to soak up all the early pressure was lacking. The Cowboys tried their best but they just couldn’t trouble a Storm side that had an answer for nearly everything that was thrown at them.
Morgan’s kicking game – which had been brilliant in recent weeks – was completely neutralised by Slater’s work at the back while Taumalolo was restricted to just 124 running metres, one of his lowest tallies all season. While being there in the first place was a massive accomplishment, sentiments echoed by Morgan in post-match comments was that it was all for nothing in the end and a wasted season.
Attitudes may change with time but it was a disappointing result.
Slater caps off remarkable comeback
You could see what it meant to Billy Slater to be where he was after what he had to fight through to resurrect his career. There were tears in his eyes as he recalled the times he questioned whether he would ever play rugby league again after that troublesome shoulder injury kept him out of the game for close to two years.
He walked away from the grand final as a two-time Clive Churchill Medallist. His performance was amazing as he scored a try, set up one for Felise Kaufusi and was flawless at the back as he defused kick after kick.
Lots of talk is doing the rounds of whether he’ll play on for another season or not. As he sits at 299 games with a seemingly plenty left in the tank, it’s hard not to imagine Slater playing on for one more season.
End of an era
There’s not much more that that hasn’t already been repeated a thousand times about rugby league’s divine trio of Slater, Cronk and Smith. To have three players come up through the lower grades together and end up playing for the same team was a sign from the footy gods that some things are just meant to be.
2017’s grand final was the last time the trio will ever play together at club level, with a potential swansong from Cronk in the World Cup to come. It’s hard to imagine that it has all come to an end now. History will look back on them as some of the greatest rugby league players to ever exist and NSW fans will tell nightmarish tales in their old age of the decade of dominance they created for Queensland.
With Cooper Cronk playing coy and yet to officially declare what his future holds, the story of the Big Three may not close one chapter after all. Regardless of what happens, to all who have witnessed Slater, Cronk and Smith play together, we have been privileged to do so.
In The Sheds
Shaun Fensom will spend six months in the recovery ward after he has surgery on a broken leg suffered in the third minute of play.
Melbourne Storm – 34
Tries: Josh Addo-Carr (19m, 73m), Felise Kaufusi (28m), Billy Slater (37m), Dale Finucane (64m), Curtis Scott (67m)
Goals: Cameron Smith 5/6
North Queensland Cowboys – 6
Tries: Te Maire Martin (48m)
Goals: Ethan Lowe 1/1