Melbourne have polarised opinion about the worthiness of their premierships in the past, but last night’s 14-4 grand final victory over Canterbury vindicated their standing as competition heavyweights once and for all.
Bewildered after their infamous salary cap breaches in 2010, the Craig Bellamy-coached side now have an NRL premiership to punctuate a stirring two-year revival.
The salary cap breaches came to a head on April 22, 2010. The upshot was that the Storm were stripped of their 2007 and 2009 premiership titles, tarnishing the club’s fruitful 10-year run in the top tier.
But the man they call Bellyache truly corralled his troops for the biggest test of the season.
Melbourne were clinical from the outset and exercised extreme pressure on the Bulldogs. They controlled 78per cent of possession after 15 minutes and by half-time had executed a near-perfect 95per cent completion rate.
Had it been any other opposition, you sense Melbourne would have rolled them after 20 minutes. The Bulldogs were able to stay in the game through desperate defence, plus a lack of quality-kicking options from Cameron Smith.
The Bulldogs steeled themselves, at one point holding out the Storm on their own goal line for five consecutive sets. Ultimately, it was to no avail.
Despite a flurry of second-half opportunities, Canterbury could not penetrate the unrelenting Storm defence. The incredible Ben Barba-Josh Morris combination that anchored the Bulldogs’ minor premiership failed to yield a single point.
Barba failed to live up to lofty expectations, conceding two important knock-ons in the first half alone and being kept at bay by Melbourne’s smothering defence.
Josh Reynolds’ firebrand style of attack was kept quieter than the largely pro-Canterbury showing in the 82,976 ANZ Stadium crowd.
When the Bulldogs’ desperation grew and they tried to chance their arm at the back end of the game, Melbourne had all the answers.
In the end, their only points would come from a clever Krisnan Inu chip into the arms of winger Sam Perrett, 25 minutes in.
Melbourne, meanwhile, sat back and simply defended their first- half output: an unassailable tally of points thanks to Ryan Hoffman, Billy Slater and Justin O’Neill four-pointers.
Slater, halfback Cooper Cronk and captain Cameron Smith were among the standouts for Melbourne.
Smith said the Storm saved their best performance of the season until last.
‘‘There was part of the season where a lot of people were writing us off and we stuck strong,’’ Smith said.
‘‘We built this club back up.’’