Nigel Wall,, NRL.com
Melbourne defeated the Bulldogs 14-4 at ANZ Stadium to claim the 2012 Telstra Premiership in what was the third meeting between these sides last season.
The Storm’s rousing title victory came after Melbourne won 12-6 at home in Round 7 before the Bulldogs won 20-4 in Adelaide in Round 16.
In the decider, Ryan Hoffman posted first points for the Storm, running onto a Gareth Widdop pass on the left edge with just seven minutes gone; Cameron Smith failed to convert, leaving the Storm ahead 4-nil.
Sam Perrett got the blue-and-whites back into the contest in the 27th minute, retrieving a Krisnan Inu grubber kick into the Storm in-goal to score (4-all). However, before the try was awarded both sides erupted in confrontation, the Canterbury players unhappy with what they considered was a late tackle by Billy Slater on Perrett.
More was to come; as the fracas died down Slater alleged he’d been bitten by Bulldogs prop James Graham – replays certainly supported Slater’s complaint – and the Englishman was placed on report. (He was subsequently suspended for 12 matches.)
Melbourne definitely were the more settled unit when the football resumed; they surged to a 10-4 lead after 32 minutes when Cronk dummied long and then popped a short ball to Slater who sliced through.
Bulldogs fans’ hearts sank on the stroke of halftime when Justin O’Neill flew high to capture a Cronk chip kick to score and deliver the final scoreline.
Despite missing an uncharacteristically high 38 tackles (to Canterbury’s 20) the Storm nevertheless controlled possession throughout the 80 minutes, completing 32 of 35 sets for a whopping 91 per cent completion rate compared to Canterbury’s modest 72 per cent.
Cronk (two try assists) was a deserving Churchill Medal winner, while Michael Ennis (48 tackles) and Josh Reynolds (11 tackle busts) tried their hearts out for the ’Dogs.