Our 2009 Grand Final review

All good things must come to an end – and so it was for the brave Eels, with the Cooper Cronk-fuelled Storm crushing their dreams of a fairytale premiership before the biggest crowd at ANZ Stadium since, ironically, Parramatta’s heartbreak loss to Newcastle in 2001.<br><br>Let’s be honest: it was never a truly close affair. Nevertheless, the final 12 minutes were as thrilling and compelling a spectacle as you’d ever want. Superstar fullback Jarryd Hayne wasn’t one of the two best players for his side, and not among the best six on the ground, but still the Eels pressed the issue to the remaining minutes, forcing their opponents to snap a safety-measure field goal to put their second premiership in four years beyond doubt. <br><br>Melbourne blitzed to a 6-0 lead after four minutes and cruised through the remainder of the first 40 for a comfortable 10-0 scoreline at oranges. But the Eels brought the subdued majority of the 82,528-strong crowd to life when winger Eric Grothe bulldozed over in the right corner to make it 10-6 with 34 minutes remaining.<br><br>It was short-lived joy, for the Storm returned fire immediately; Greg Inglis fielding an uncontested bomb to stroll over under the posts for a 16-6 advantage at the 48-minute mark. And when Churchill Medallist Billy Slater was the beneficiary of some excellent lead-up work from Cronk and Adam Blair for a 22-6 lead with little more than 20 minutes to go, most at the stadium were wondering how the Eels could halt a bloodbath.<br><br>Instead, Parramatta dug deep to deliver an inspirational section that wafted them a meaty sniff of improbable victory. First Joel Reddy sailed high to snaffle a Jeff Robson cross-field bomb on the right edge and with Luke Burt adding the difficult extras in was 22-12 with 11 to go. Then the solo play of the game – Fuifui Moimoi charged 20 metres down the left edge, outmuscling Cronk, Slater, Steve Turner and Will Chambers to smash over for a try and a six-point deficit with nine minutes left.<br><br>Still the Eels kept coming and when Slater grassed a Hayne bomb 10 metres from his goal line the blue-and-gold faithful were overcome with more than a sense of maybe.<br><br>That disappeared five tackles later after Krisnan Inu was felled just short of the tryline in the left corner; inexplicably the ball was fed to lock Todd Lowrie at first receiver who fashioned a fair but poorly aimed grubber that was defused. <br><br>Running the ball late in that set Billy Slater was awarded a penalty for a strip when the ball shot free of his grasp, although replays showed the fullback simply lost possession. The penalty halted the Eels’ surge and when Greg Inglis kicked only his second field goal of the season (his first was to snatch a win over the Dragons in Round 1) the 2009 Telstra Premiership trophy was headed back to the Victorian capital. And deservedly so.<br><b><br>The Game Swung When…</b> Jarryd Hayne and other Eels failed to contest Cooper Cronk’s innocuous-looking bomb down the left edge in the 48th minute. While the Parramatta players tried to shepherd chasers off the ball, no-one was able to inconvenience Inglis who sprinted through, caught the ball with a half-hearted leap and scored under the posts. Just two minutes earlier the Eels had bridged the gap to four points but this farcically easy try crushed the wind from their heaving lungs.<br><br>Also, the penalty against Storm centre Will Chambers for fielding a desperation-stakes Parramatta line dropout that was never going to travel 10 metres was crucial. Chambers leapt for Hayne’s short kick restart, regathered inside the Parramatta 10-metre line and gleefully crossed for what he thought was a try; unfortunately the rules don’t allow opposition teams to make contact with the ball before it travels 10 metres. From the penalty the Eels rallied downfield and shortly after Reddy grounded to initiate their revival. <br><br><b>Who Was Hot…</b> Slater was awarded best on ground. He was stirring in attack, his whippet-like darts (165 metres) setting up plenty of Storm raids.<br><br>But NRL.com’s player of the match was Storm halfback Cooper Cronk (two try assists). He kicked with precision and was as dutiful as an ambitious office clerk. And it was the number seven who took the game by the scruff of the neck when challenging the Eels line with just 24 minutes gone, dummying inside to bust the defence, then when free offloading inside to Adam Blair who crossed for their 10-0 lead. And that pair combined again in the second half to put Slater over for their 22-6 lead.<br><br>Winger Steve Turner made some nice runs (115 metres) and pulled off a lovely diving tackle on a flying Luke Burt down the left flank that stopped points.<br><br>Ryan Hoffman (a line break, 147 metres and 20 tackles) was devastating down the left edge and could have had two tries in eight minutes after punching a half-gap in identical circumstances off a Brett Finch pass. &nbsp;<br><br>Without much of the spotlight on him Finch shone at five-eighth, providing a try assist. He defended stoutly (24 tackles) too.<br><br>Captain Cameron Smith kept feeding his troops out of dummy-half to gain great inroads as the Eels’ defence retreated. And he made a team-high 46 tackles.<br><br>Inglis made a line break and scored a great try.<br><br>For the Eels Fuifui Moimoi and Feleti Mateo went close to being best on ground in a beaten side. Moimoi’s runs were all force and his defence stopped the Storm’s big men in their tracks. And while five-eighth Daniel Mortimer held his own with a sound game (game-high three line breaks plus 100 metres), the Eels looked truly dangerous when Mateo ran to the line (game-high 171 metres) and offloaded to spark second-phase play. Which he did five times to great effect. <br><br>Winger Eric Grothe (162 metres, a line break) was awesome; he scored a try, made a bunch of runs out wide and as a pseudo-forward when required and was error-free.<br><br>Nathan Hindmarsh tackled himself to a standstill (64 tackles).<br><br>Hayne (168 metres) tried to conjure magic (just one offload) but the Storm defensive plan was up to the task – rather than stand on their heels waiting for his next move they charged and swamped him, like secret servicemen jumping on a US president at the sound of gunfire. He didn’t make a line break for only the second time since Round 14. His kicking game was askew and when he was contained he lacked verve even in jogging back into position. His body language told the tale: if Hayne didn’t have a spring in his step for most of the match, what was there for the fans and players to be upbeat about?<br><br><b>Who Was Not…</b> Not too many did too much wrong, although the Eels’ defence should have been ready to halt Hoffman after just four minutes.<br><br>And after the mad flurry of Eels interchanges midway through the first half, replacement prop Tim Mannah’s miss on Cronk was a turning point.<br><br><b>Had To Be Seen To Be Be Believed…</b> Like a shark caught in a drift net, Ryan Hoffman was snagged in the Storm’s banner as he ran onto the ground.<br><br>Jarryd Hayne booted one line dropout 60 metres on the fly… and one that didn’t travel 10 metres.<br><br>Eric Grothe leapt high to defuse a bunch of bombs. Was bank-safe.<br><br>And Fuifui Moimoi’s dreadlocks were flying as he backed himself in a 20-metre run to the line that brought the stadium to life.<br><br><b>Refs Watch…</b> Just average report cards for referees Tony Archer and Shayne Hayne and touch judges David Abood and Paul Holland. The refs’ ‘10’ metres varied between seven and 13 and the touchies allowed the outside backs to umbrella around offside at the play-the-ball.<br><br>They let Steve Turner scramble for 13 metres more than he was entitled to after he was clearly held in a tackle in just the 2nd minute; Cameron Smith earned the Storm a repeat set when Hayne was tackled in-goal and Hofmann crashed over seconds later.<br><br>They also missed a blatant six-again call on the tackle that led to Eric Grothe’s try; you can bet that had the Eels not scored there would have been howls of protest. <br><br>The late holding down penalty against Moimoi on Slater, who lost the ball when battling to get to his feet, was harsh and signalled the end of the road for the Eels. But it didn’t cost them the game. The Storm were too good.<br><br><b>NRL.com Best &amp; Fairest…</b> 3 points – Cooper Cronk (Storm): The Eels seemed more intent on looking out for the Storm’s main danger men. Bad mistake; 2 points – Feleti Mateo (Eels): A wonderful display of creativity under pressure. Ran, dazzled, dummied, offloaded sublimely; 1 point – Billy Slater (Storm): The elusive focal point of the Storm’s running game. &nbsp;<br><br><b>&nbsp;Storm 23</b> (R Hoffman, A Blair, G Inglis, B Slater tries, C Smith 3 goals, G Inglis field goal) def <b>Eels 16 </b>(E Grothe, J Reddy, F Moimoi tries, L Burt 3 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Crowd: 82, 538.<br>