HOME RECORD: 9 wins, 2 losses, 1 draw (5th)
AWAY RECORD: 5 wins, 7 losses (=6th)
Won 40-12 v Sea Eagles, Won 40-10 v Broncos, Won 23-16 v Eels to finish Premiers.
BEST WINNING STREAK: 5 (rounds 25-Finals Week 4)
PLAYERS USED: 28
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Billy Slater
TRIES SCORED (After 26 rounds): 92 (=6th)
TRIES CONCEDED (After 26 rounds): 60 (2nd fewest)
Melbourne entered the realms of the great teams by taking out their second premiership in three years in what was their fourth consecutive grand final.
Looking a considerably more average side during the regular season than their three previous incarnations, the Storm were far from the favorites entering the finals, despite battling away to a respectable fourth spot.
But they absolutely belted the Sea Eagles and Broncos to enter the decider, before clinically putting the Eels away when it mattered most.
Parramatta may have fought back late in the Grand Final but the Storm proved they were the dominant force of the decade as their big guns got the job done.
Captain Cameron Smith, halfback Cooper Cronk, centre Greg Inglis and Clive Churchill Medal-winning fullback Billy Slater all played well amongst a team of hard workers to ensure the Storm collected a third premiership in just 12 years since inception.
Where They Excelled… The Storm continued as their usual self, although not as dominant, by just doing the simple things right.
They minimised errors and used suffocating defence to ensure opposition teams would have to work very hard to beat them.
Their right-side defence particularly was extremely strong, with opposition teams only scoring four tries against the ‘fringe’ in particular – an unbelievable achievement over a season.
Where They Struggled… It’s hard to find fault in the team that wins the premiership but if you look purely on stats you could say the Storm were poor at offloads.
Ranked 15th in the regular season for second-phase play Melbourne continued the ‘up the jumper’ philosophy that has worked brilliantly for them for a few years now.
Missing In Action… Prop Sika Manu was probably the only first-string Melbourne weapon to be missing for the big games at the end of the year after he damaged his leg severely against the Dragons in Round 21.
Matt Cross was also hurt but otherwise injuries were fairly kind to the Storm.
Turning Point… Some might suggest the turning point for Melbourne was the standing down of Greg Inglis after an alleged assault late in the year. When Inglis returned a few weeks later he was fresh and raring to go and the opposition teams felt it.
In reality though the Storm probably really took some belief from the shellacking they gave the Sea Eagles in Week One of the finals. They had entered the end-of-season games with two good wins against easy opposition but to blow Manly away with such precision was sensational.
To then back it up a fortnight later against a red-hot Broncos team… well there was no way the side wouldn’t ooze confidence in the big one.
The turning point in the Grand Final came when Inglis took an uncontested bomb in the second half to score and stretch the lead to 22-6, a bridge too far for the Eels.
Best Games… The finals matches for the Storm were phenomenal.
First the side pumped Manly 40-12 before enjoying a week off. Then they annihilated the Broncos 40-10. The side topped it all off with an impressive 23-16 win over Parramatta to get their premiership rings.
The form of Inglis and Slater was just devastating in the final three matches, with Slater grabbing the Clive Churchill Medal for man of the match in the Grand Final, while Inglis produced a crucial try and field goal also in the last game of the year.
Other impressive Storm wins included the 17-16 golden-point win over the Dragons in Round 1 (the other match Inglis sealed with a field goal), the 22-8 grand final rematch win over Manly at Brookvale Oval in Round 8 and the 48-4 smash up of Brisbane after Origin I in Round 13.
Worst Games… The Storm never really plays awful but the worst of their losses was probably the Round 16 defeat at the hands of the Raiders in Canberra.
Melbourne hadn’t lost to the Raiders in, ooh, forever (seven years and 14 consecutive matches) but on a chilly Monday night they were bumped off 26-16 to suggest their aura of invincibility over the past few years was fading.
The side also had scratchy losses to the Titans (18-6) at home in Round 4, the Knights (26-14) away in Round 23 and the Wests Tigers (16-6) at Leichhardt in Round 6.
The Bulldogs and Dragons also put some points on them in games but both matches were great contests –in particular the Dragons game at Kogarah in Round 21.
Hold Your Head High… Melbourne had plenty of worthy contributors to their season with the usual suspects in Slater (165 tackle breaks – second in NRL and team-high average 124 metres) and Inglis (16 line breaks and 10 try assists plus average 121 metres) leading the way.
Cameron Smith was solid as always, Ryan Hoffman (team-high average 14.5 runs) reproduced some of his better form after an earlier lapse and really everyone pulled their weight when needed. You could rattle them all off. Will Chambers (17 line breaks, 78 tackle breaks) finished his time in league with a solid year, Brett Finch made history by winning a title against the team he was sacked from earlier in the season, halfback Cooper Cronk cemented himself as a great number seven, props like Brett White, Aiden Tolman and Brett Anderson played hard and strong. Adam Blair showed glimpses of brilliance… the list goes on.
Coach Craig Bellamy says: “This is the best feeling I’ve had as a coach. I know we were favourites [in the GF], but with the inexperience in our team there was always a chance we could get stage-struck.
“In 2007 we went through the minor premiership pretty easily. There were a lot of unknowns this year but we are premiers and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Conclusion… This Melbourne club is seriously the model of success. The side just fights to the death and while the salary cap will no doubt once again force some players out, Craig Bellamy keeps finding ways to get his side to lift to bigger and better achievements.
The plaudits can’t come thick nor fast enough. This club also won the Toyota Cup under-20s, made the finals in the NSW Cup (as Central Coast Storm), made the Grand Final in SG Ball under-18s… they just dominated. Well done boys, enjoy the spoils: you deserve them.