The Melbourne Storm went into tonight's National Rugby League grand final at ANZ Stadium knowing that even though the bookies favoured them, they had to perform better than they did last year to have a chance against a red-hot Parramatta team.
In last year's NRL premiership decider, the Storm were held scoreless in a 0-40 thumping by the Manly Sea Eagles. Tonight they are back at the top of the mountain, beating the Eels 23-16 to claim their second title in four straight grand final appearances.
The Storm took advantage of the Eels' wayward defence in the first half, notching up two tries to forwards Adam Blair and Ryan Hoffman, and a conversion to skipper Cameron Smith, to bring the score to 10-0 before the break.
The Eels opened their scoring account four minutes into the second half when winger Eric Grothe collected a pass from fullback Jarryd Hayne and cut through three defenders, with Luke Burt's conversion bringing the score to 6-10.
Melbourne struck back three minutes later. Centre Greg Inglis collected an uncontested bomb and Smith added another two points to put the Storm back in front.
Danger struck again around the 55 minute mark when Blair floated a beautiful pass to the game's most dangerous attacker, fullback Billy Slater, who crossed to put the Storm even further ahead.
As they had shown in the latter half of the season, the Eels refused to die and their persistence paid off with a 69th minute try to Joel Reddy. The Eels turned on their high-intensity attacking game, and minutes later Fuifui Moimoi crossed after an incredible set which went from end to end.
With five minutes left on the clock and only six points the difference, Inglis deftly potted a field goal from 20 metres out to put the premiership beyond Parramatta's reach.
The win almost certainly confirms the Storm as the most dominant team of the past decade, with three wins from five grand final appearances. The first came by way of a 20-18 win over St George Illawarra in 1999 in what was Melbourne's second year in the competition.
For Parramatta, the loss is heartbreaking. A tragic final chapter to a fairytale story.
Two months ago, coach Daniel Anderson's men were in the NRL wilderness and faced the unenviable task of winning virtually every match they played if they were to have their chance at a premiership.
The Warriors almost did it last year, coming from out of nowhere to finish the season in the highly-unfancied eighth position. If not for the unstoppable Sea Eagles, the Warriors would have been the first team to qualify for the grand final from eighth place under the McIntyre finals system.
The Eels made history by doing exactly that, steamrolling their way through the latter stages of the competition and into the finals series, losing only once in the last 11 matches before tonight's grand final.
The honour of being the first team to win the premiership from eighth place will go unclaimed for another season.
Veterans Burt, Nathan Hindmarsh and Nathan Cayless, the unflappable skipper, were the only Eels to have played in the club's last grand final - a shock loss to Newcastle in 2001. Their teammates had pledged to help the trio win the premiership which eluded them on that day but, despite their best efforts, couldn't deliver on their promise.
Last year, the Sea Eagles managed to 'do it for Beaver' - their legendary forward Steve Menzies, who retired from the NRL after many seasons of service. Tonight, the Storm refused to let another team script a happy ending at their expense.
Melbourne Storm 23 - Ryan Hoffman, Adam Blair, Greg Inglis, Billy Slater tries; Cameron Smith (3) goals; Inglis field goal Parramatta Eels 16 - Eric Grothe, Joel Reddy, Fuifui Moimoi tries; Luke Burt goals (2)
Halftime: Storm 10-0
- NZ HERALD ONLINE