There’s been some spicy rivalries in the NRL era (Melbourne v Manly Warringah, Melbourne v Cronulla-Sutherland, Canberra v St George Illawarra, Sydney Roosters v South Sydney, Brisbane v North Queensland), but the recent rivalry between the Melbourne Storm and the Roosters (two of the most consistent teams in recent times) is arguably the best of them all, with the latest chapter this Thursday night.
The Storm and/or Roosters have played in every Grand Final since 2016, with two premierships to the Roosters, and one to the Storm. Another Storm and/or Roosters Grand Final looks likely in 2020.
Based in Victoria – a state where the myopic AFL obsession is so frustratingly insane that league and union may as well not bother trying – the Storm have had to work hard to get attention (though everyone’s favourite music guru Molly Meldrum is a high-profile fan). Ever since Craig Bellamy became coach in 2003 (the 148-game Raider was in line for the Canberra coaching job before Matt Elliott got it), the Storm have missed just one finals series, played in eight grand finals, and won two “official” premierships. Meanwhile, the Storm’s Billy Slater, Cameron Smith, and Cooper Cronk led Queensland’s dominant eight-series Origin run.
All this success aside, the true indication of their winning mentality was in 2010. Barred from earning any competition points due to the salary cap scandal, the Storm could have easily packed up shop, given their younger/less-experienced players a decent run, and started preparing for 2011. This wasn’t an option for Bellamy, with the Storm going 14-10, good enough to make the finals. With that in mind, it was no surprise that the Storm returned to the preliminary final in 2011, and won their second “official” premiership in 2012 (with all the AFL-loving Victorians suddenly remembering that the Storm existed).
While the Eastern Suburbs/Sydney City/Sydney Roosters are the only uninterrupted foundation club, it doesn’t mean they’re popular. Opposition fans cynically do the Krysten Ritter eye-roll GIF when talking about the Roosters’ “salary cap” (insert sombrero joke here), which has the elasticity of Mister Fantastic/Reed Richards. With Sonny Bill Williams suddenly available, Uncle Nick magically found the money to sign him for the run to the finals.
Despite the hatred, the Roosters are used to success: they won three straight minor premierships from 2013 to 2015 (for one premiership). They finished second last in 2016 after the Mitchell Pearce “incident”, made the preliminary final in 2017, and went back-to-back in 2018/19. They’re warm favourites to claim the first hat-trick since Parramatta in the early eighties, only with slightly better haircuts.
There’s been some epic games between the Roosters and the Storm in the last few seasons:
2017: The 2017 season was the start of the current rivalry between the Roosters and the Storm. The Roosters won the first game (at the Adelaide Oval) 25-24 in Golden Point. While the Storm scored five tries to four, an 84th minute field goal from Pearce (back in the Roosters’ good books) sealed the win.
Seven weeks later, the Storm won 16-13 at AAMI Park. The Roosters led 13-12 after a 73rd minute Luke Keary field goal, before Joe Stimson scored a try in the 76th minute to steal the win. Both the Storm and Roosters would go deep into September: the Roosters made the preliminary final, but lost to North Queensland (who were on a fairytale run from eighth place), before Melbourne hammered the Cowboys in the Grand Final.
2018: Now, this is where things get interesting, with the Roosters and Storm playing in the grand final. While the Roosters won 21-6, the big story was Cooper Cronk, who had moved from the Storm to the Roosters. Playing with a broken scapula, a limited Cronk assumed a virtual on-field player-coach role, using his years of Grand Final experience to beat his ex-teammates.
The only regular season game was a cracker, again at the Adelaide Oval, with Cameron Smith kicking a late field goal to seal a 9-8 win for the Storm.
2019: Easter is a big weekend for rugby league, and the Good Friday evening match should showcase the game to a captive audience. The 2019 edition did just that, with the Roosters winning an absolute barn-burner (21-20) at AAMI Park. The Roosters led 20-0 after half-an-hour, before the Storm levelled it 20 minutes later. A booming Latrell Mitchell field goal, in the first minute of Golden Point, was a fitting finish to arguably the game of the season.
The return clash – in Adelaide for the third straight year – was another close one. It wasn’t quite as dramatic as the Good Friday game, with the Storm winning 14-12.
The third clash was the preliminary final, with the winner playing Canberra in the Grand Final. The Roosters won 14-6 at the SCG (leading 8-0 at halftime), and would “six again” their way to their second-straight premiership a week later (sorry, Raiders fans).
2020: The 2020 season – like the year – has been strange so far: we had two rounds of footy, then a two-month break (thankfully the classic games on the NRL website and Fox League kept most footy fans sane) before the footy returned.
The round eight match between the Roosters and Storm (a Melbourne “home” game at Lang Park) has probably been the match of the year so far. The Roosters should have won this comfortably, leading 22-12 with 12 minutes left. The Storm then scored two tries to take a 24-22 lead before the Roosters’ Kyle Flanagan nailed a high-pressure penalty goal to tie the scores. Luke Keary and Ryan Papenhuyzen traded 79th-minute field goals to tie it up – again – at 25-25 and enter Golden Point. The game ended in controversy, with Jake Friend conceding a penalty in the 83rd minute, allowing Cameron Smith to kick the winning penalty goal. There was more controversy after the game, with the referee missing a Brandon Smith knock-on in the lead-up to Papenhuyzen’s field goal. Though it was such a small bobble – when everyone was waiting for the Storm’s field goal attempt – that you could probably forgive the referee for missing it.
With the Storm and the Roosters both in the top four after 13 rounds, Thursday night promises to be another blockbuster. Maybe we’ll be treated to another Golden Point thriller?