Melbourne Storm win NRL premiership over North Queensland Cowboys

Success: Billy Slater celebrates a try. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts
Success: Billy Slater celebrates a try. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts

In 1966, to describe the great St George team, the phrase 'never before, never again' was created to put their 11 straight premierships into context.

Fifty-one years later, it's that very phrase that is most fitting to describe the end of an era at the Storm and indeed in rugby league after Melbourne's 34-6 premiership victory over the Cowboys on Sunday night.

The big three, for the last time, did what only they can do. Future immortals. Winners, again and again.

Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith. The greatest one, seven, nine combination. Never before, never again.

They'll finish their time together with two premierships, two stripped titles and a legacy that is far greater than the winning culture they have instilled in Melbourne that is the envy of every club in the competition.

Cronk, as usual, was the last man on to the field, running out for what was expected to be his NRL farewell. Slater, well he's expected back for one more season. And Smith? He could play until he is 40 and be the first player to register 400-plus games.

The Storm hooker is renowned for his game awareness and his ability to influence a match with his decision-making and execution.

On Sunday night there was all of that, but he also had his running shoes on - darting out of dummy half all night to cause the Cowboys all sorts of headaches.

And don't forget the coach. Craig Bellamy, who when he finishes his career, will likely be spoken of in the same company as the great Jack Gibson and the modern-day master, Wayne Bennett.

This was always going to be Melbourne's grand final to lose. They were far and away the best team in the NRL all season. No matter how good the Cowboys have been throughout this finals series, their best wasn't going to be better than Melbourne's best.

And in front of a crowd of 79,722 at ANZ Stadium, North Queensland's dream run came to an end.

The Cowboys, if they were to spring an upset of gigantic proportions, needed Melbourne to have an off day. They needed to be provided with the same window of opportunity the Storm presented Parramatta and Brisbane in their two appearances this finals series. That never came.

The Cowboys needed luck, and some. So when mid-season recruit Shaun Fensom hit the deck as a result of some friendly fire from Ethan Lowe, one got the feeling this fairytale story wouldn't get its happily ever after.

The game stopped for nine minutes, but that wasn't enough to help the Cowboys prepare to weather the storm that was about to hit.

The first was a flash of lightning, with Josh Addo-Carr showing why he is largely considered the fastest man in rugby league when he sprinted 75 metres for the first try of the night against the run of play.

The second was just a bit of gold old fashioned homework, with Slater identifying one of Te Maire Martin's defensive deficiencies to put Felise Kaufusi through a yawning gap.

But like all good things in Melbourne, they come in threes, and a try on the stroke of half-time to Slater after a crucial, yet avoidable, error from Antonio Winterstein helped the Storm to what would prove an unassailable 18-0 lead.

Repeated penalties gifted the Cowboys a chance to register first points after the break, and thanks to the dazzling footwork of Te Maire Martin, they managed to turn pressure into points and an 18-point deficit to just two converted tries.

But with 16 minutes remaining, Melbourne lock Dale Finucane grabbed his fourth try of the season in what was his fourth grand final appearance, giving the state of Victoria something worth celebrating for the second time in as many days.

Another Cowboys error led to more Melbourne points, with Addo-Carr cleaning up the scraps to put Curtis Scott over for a 28-6 lead with 11 minutes remaining.

Addo-Carr then bagged his second try of the night five minutes later, finishing off the brilliant lead-up work of the big three to send the Storm into raptures.