MELBOURNE Storm 26 defeated Penrith Panthers 20
Clive Churchill Medal: Ryan Papenhuyzen
Well, it was here – The culmination of the hard work of everyone in the game of rugbaleeg, led by the folks (Pistol Peter V’Landys, Wayne Pearce and Andrew Abdo) in the command module at Project Apollo, who landed on the moon when the season restarted at the end of May, and now they’ve pretty much reached Mars getting to the Grand Final without losing a single round of the revised season.
As the rain pissed down during Sunday afternoon, the pre-game was highlighted by Paul Kent still trying to find out if Cameron Smith would retire, plus the small matter of the NRLW Grand Final, with the Brisbane Broncos ladies bringing up the Threepeat in the first 3 years of the women’s competition, and also confirming they’d end 2020 having won more games (4 vs 3) than their male counterparts.
Congratulations ladies – A mere 1 defeat in 3 years.
And to state the obvious, the entertainment was headlined by Amy Shark (Do doo doo doo doo), who easily put on the best performance by a Shark on NRL Grand Final day since Luke Lewis led Cronulla to their maiden Premiership 4 years ago.
Thankfully, the weather cleared up by 7:30, and with just on 40,000 in the house, the game began with a bang, as Jahrome Hughes let Nathan Cleary’s opening kickoff bounce, only to watch the oblong football take a hard turn right towards the sideline, and led to the knock-on 10 metres out, but the Storm defence passed their first test, and the scores stayed at nil.
The wild start continued when the Storm got a 7 tackle set in Panthers territory, they shifted left, and just before getting taken out of play, Josh Addo-Carr offloaded to Justin Olam, who dived straight for the line, only for Tyrone May to illegally stick his leg out and cause a knock-on – The Billy Slater special – Turning what would’ve been a try in the corner into a penalty try after the video referee overturned referee Sutton, making it an easy 2 points for Cameron Smith to make it 6-0.
It was the first penalty try in a Grand Final since Jamie Lyon for Manly in 2013, and of course, the Storm have a good history with penalty tries in Grand Finals, as Craig Smith will tell you.
Immediately balancing out his good work, Olam knocked on after the kickoff and gave the Panthers a set inside Storm territory, and after a restart set, Josh Mansour dived over in the left corner, but Stephen Crichton was called for obstructing Brenko Lee by the video referee, to the cries of a certain Penrith Premiership coach calling the game for Channel 9 as The Bunker sided with the defensive player.
12 minutes in, Viliame Kikau was penalised for passing after his arm had hit the ground, the first of many mistakes for Big Billy on Sunday evening, as the Storm started an attack 20m out, but Kenny Bromwich lost the ball on Tackle 1.
The Panthers then turned a botched last play into a 7-tackle set 20m out after the Storm got a hand on the ball, then they got a set restart 5m out, but despite having both Storm defensive edges at sixes and sevens, the Men In Black could only get as close as Crichton being held up on Tackle 4.
Aside from those early goal line stands, another noticeable feature of the Storm defence was that outside of the opening kickoff, Nathan Cleary’s kicking game was forced under lock and key, the result of the Storm’s constant pressure up the middle on the last tackle, which rather effectively clamped down on the Halfback of the Year.
Meanwhile, Christian Welch was forced off for a HIA (He came back eventually), but summing up how much depth the Storm have in their forward pack, Dale Finucane and Brandon ‘The Hectic Cheese’ Smith took the field, also replacing Nelson Asofa-Solomona after a massive opening stint from big NAS.
On the subject of bench players, did Nico Hynes even get on the ground on Sunday night?
I swear I didn’t even hear his name mentioned one, which means he was just sitting on his arse doing this:
21 minutes in, Kikau was penalised again, this time for picking up a loose Cheese pass (That had hit a Panthers player) from an offside position, and Cameron Smith took the 2 points from 33m out straight in front to make it 8-0.
In another incident, James Fisher-Harris hit The Cheese late after a pass (Gus called it a “Late Shit”) and gave away a penalty from an identical position to 5 minutes prior, forcing the Kiwi off the ground due to whiplash, as Cameron Smith slotted another shot at goal to make it 10-0.
Still, the Panthers got another big chance to respond via a penalty 20m out, and it was here that we saw the second try of the night…
When Cleary threw an absolute hospital pass that Suliasi Vunivalu read like a 2-page feature, and in a moment of beauty, hit the ground, got up, beat the Mansour tackle, and exploded downfield to make it 14-0, and Smith made it 16-0 with the simple kick, although Phil Gould still thought the Panthers were on top.
That was the Fijian Flyer’s last try for the Storm before he joins the Queensland Reds, and a try like that will have the folks at Rugby Australia at half-mast.
On another note, you know who would’ve had half a chance of catching the Fijian Flyer?
WHO GOT LEFT ON THE PINE.
IVAN, HE COULD’VE DONE SOMETHING, AND INSTEAD YOU LEFT HIM CRYING.
The scoreboard pressure was now doing a number on the Men In Black – Tyrone May threw a bad forward pass 40m out from his own line, then they gave away a leg pull penalty on the last tackle 5m out only 2 minutes before the half, and in a hammer blow to sum up the opening half…
Api Korisau knocked the ball out of Cam Smith’s hands right on the goal line, which constituted playing at the ball rather than a classic handling error (As had been called on-field), and Old Man Cam realised the situation, and dived under the posts right on the bell to make it 22-0.
With that, Smithy broke Souths great Eric Simms’ 49-year-old record for most career points in Grand Finals, bringing up his 42nd point with the conversion, and amazingly enough, after 9 Grand Finals, that was Smith’s first Grand Final try.
It might be his only one.
So the Storm, playing with a set of tactics that Cyril Small deployed riding Vo Rogue on a regular basis, had utterly shattered the nervous Panthers with breakneck footy, to lead 22-0 in the biggest game of the year.
If you had been robbed of your sight and had to listen through the Channel 9 coverage, you’d think the Panthers had gone through the Storm like a fiery vindaloo.
So from that, Nine fed us right in to the half-time entertainment of Brad Fittler’s 2020 season recap, which seemed to resemble a bigger jumbled wreck than John Denver’s last joy-flight.
More appropriately, it was a bigger jumbled wreck than Penrith’s attack.
Starting the 2nd Half needing points, the Panthers had an opening when the Storm threw a loose pass out of play on their own 40, but referee Sutton eventually noticed a knock-on by Moses Liota on Tackle 1, and a Captain’s Challenge confirmed it was a loose carry.
And straight out of the scrum feed from the Storm 20,further summing up the night for both teams….
THE PAP WENT SUPER SONIC!
It was mesmerising.
It was devastating.
It was another spectacular discombobulation of the Panthers defence.
Smith needed 2 points to go to 16 points and equal St George legend Harry Bath (1957) for the most individual points in a Grand Final, but he couldn’t convert from the sideline, and it stayed 26-0, which was a bridge too far, even for a team that had won 17 straight games.
The Panthers got a break with a forward pass then a 10m penalty against Hughes to put them into Storm territory, but continuing the kneecapping, Sutton picked up a knock-on by Kikau when he touched the ball twice in the play-the-ball on tackle 2.
Then they gave away a penalty, and the Storm nearly scored on Tackle 5, but Vunivalu knocked on while Mansour was ball watching.
The Panthers got back into attack from the 20m restart and a ruck penalty, and it appeared The Bunker had completely forgotten the rules on obstruction when Isaah Yeo ran in behind Kurt Capewell and kicked, leading to a try to Brian To’o wide open in the corner, which should’ve been a textbook shepherding penalty to Melbourne.
Wasn’t it funny that the one time Gerard Sutton didn’t have to second guess himself sending a call upstairs still ended in The Bunker overturning the call.
Even Isaah Yeo knew that was a penalty – That was pretty much why he kicked.
THEY’RE SPENDING $2,000,000 ON THE BUNKER, AND YOU STILL GET THE SAME OLD DERPS MAKING DUMB ERRORS.
Cleary’s sideline kick went in off the upright to make it 26-6, and the Panthers suddenly had a sniff with just under half-an-hour to go.
Just when you thought Craig Bellamy would be feeling fairly relaxed as his chargers were up 26-6 with 20 minutes to go with a penalty 10m out, there we saw Bellyache putting a vice-like grip on Jason Ryles’ microphone as he started lighting up some poor bastard down on the sideline with an absolute mother of a spray.
I reckon you could feel a small tremor from the Storm coaching box when they knocked on during tackle 3.
Still, as quickly as the Storm gave the ball back, and Cameron Smith gave away a penalty on halfway, The Pap replicated a magical play he made against Souths in Round 4, and leapt like Michael Jordan scoring the winning dunk over the Monstars in 1996 to bat Cleary’s kick over his head and back into the field of play.
Your Clive Churchill Medalist, ladies and gents.
The only problem was the Storm lost the ball about 30 seconds later, the Panthers got back on the attack, and Crichton made something from nothing and charged through the right edge defence of Brenko Lee to score, and Cleary converted to make it 26-12 with 12 minutes to go.
Now, this muddling old Grand Final might start living up to some great heights.
With 9 minutes to go, the Panthers got another ruck penalty to set up an attack, and on the kick chase, Jahrome Hughes was cited for a professional foul when he was adjudged to have taken his eye off the ball and turned back into the line of Kikau, leaving the Storm to end the game with 12 players, as Cameron Smith was overheard complaining to Sutton about trying to make it an “exciting finish” with some decisions that had gone against the Storm – He got away with that bit of lip.
The tin-foil hat brigade told me it was a conspiracy from Peter V’Landys and the ARL Commission to stop the Mexicans from winning the comp after the back and forth that had gone on all year.
I thought it was deadset hilarious when they played “Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again” over the PA after Hughes got marched, then cut it off just before the chorus as the game restarted.
You didn’t even need to hear Doc Neeson ask the question to know what the crowd was going to say.
With the player advantage, the Panthers scored the third consecutive when ‘Sauce’ Mansour scored in the left corner, which The Bunker wasn’t taking away this time around, but Cleary missed the kick to leave the score 26-16.
STRAP YOURSELVES IN.
On the ensuing set, a crucial moment that further stifled The Riff was when Jarome Luai’s kick went too deep, and Papenhuyzen easily took the kick in-goal and set up a 7-tackle set, which would end in the Storm getting another set when Dylan Edwards fumbled the kick 20m out, then the Storm got a drop out, and Vunivalu took the mark.
That set ended in a forward pass, but those repeat sets killed a good 3 minutes for a physically buggered Storm team who were probably just praying the bell, and left the Mountain Men needing 2 tries in 3 minutes.
After Vunivalu foiled Mansour’s last gap effort with 90 seconds left to force a dropout, the Storm could be forgiven for feeling safe, but with the finish line in sight, The Cheese was binned for a professional foul with 20 seconds remaining, leaving the Storm to finish with 11 players, as Cheese was shoved off the field by Mansour.
Not giving up hope, Cleary charged through the gaping 2-person hole and scored a fantastic try (Against 11 men, it should be said), but he crucially declined the kick, leaving the score 26-20 with 4 seconds and one play remaining, with the Panthers needing to perform the greatest Hail Mary ever seen after the siren.
Knowing the game wasn’t done, Bellyache wasn’t done hilariously blowing up, delivering a textbook Spartan kick to a plastic chair in frustration after Cleary scored.
If you ask me, one of the Storm’s great unspoken assets to their success is that their captain and players have a tad more composure than their coach, who is a living re-enactment of the Three Mile Island accident.
Eventually, the Hail Mary bid from Penrith got about 30 metres with a few half moments, but a pass eventually ended up in Felise Kaufusi’s hands, he went straight to ground, and the Storm, off the back of a blistering opening 40 minutes, and after well over 100 days on the road, were taking the Provan-Summons trophy back to Victoria!
You could’ve given the Clive Churchill to a number of Storm players – NAS for his work absolutely crushing Penrith’s forwards, Jahrome Hughes, Cam Smith for the legacy, and to help Sportsbet justify paying out $5,000,000 worth of bets at half-time, but ultimately The Pap was a very worthy best afield, and he got the double delight of being included in Freddy Fittler’s NSW squad.
It’s interesting to note he was only the second fullback to win the award in the last 10 years – The other being Billy Slater.
It was also interesting that it started raining again as the post-game ceremonies got underway, although if you ask me, it was just the aftermath of Bellyache’s spray on the hour mark finally arriving on the field.
Also, all four of Melbourne’s *legal* premierships have a different story:
1999 was the 14-0 comeback, 2012 was the response after the salary cap punishments, 2017 was the crowning glory of an all-time great team, and 2020 was an almighty triumph against all sorts of adversity, capped off by the 4 months in exile, which still couldn’t stop them, because they’re the goddamn Melbourne Storm, and they’re winners.
Conversely, the Panthers have suffered the fate of the 2001 Eels.
Go in to the Grand Final on a massive winning streak but a nervy Prelim Final win, only to get get caught up in the moment and get absolutely smacked in the opening half, finally get themselves going in the 2nd half and make a huge comeback, but go down by 6 points.
Although, I imagine Gus still thinks the Panthers are on top.
That’s what this Grand Final felt like – 2001 – It just never really blossomed into a pulsating classic Grand Final, but that was mainly because the Storm were that damn good.
What a great 24 hours for the people of Victoria.
The Storm win, then they bring up the big COVID doughnut, and Dan The Man announces the lockdowns are easing.
The Big V is BACK.