Storm confirm themselves as the greatest side of the NRL era

How sweet it is: Cameron Smith. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts
How sweet it is: Cameron Smith. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts

All season, we didn't know. We kept asking: Who will stop the Melbourne Storm?

As expected, the answer was nobody.

Melbourne's grand final victory over North Queensland confirms their status as the greatest side of the modern era, surpassing the great Broncos and Manly teams that have dominated at various times since the NRL came to be 20 years ago.

Melbourne say they don't necessarily judge their success in premierships. The rest of us do.

They lost to Cronulla a year ago and despite the large shadow they've cast on the competition for the past seven seasons they had just one title from 2012 to show for it.

Now the rugby league outpost many wanted extinguished after their salary cap cheating was exposed in 2010 have two after their 34-6 shut-out at ANZ Stadium on Sunday night.

They won this title beating everyone at the game they created. 

So often slammed for being the ones responsible for the scourge of wrestling, slowing the middle of the field into quicksand, they became the hottest side in attack in the space of one season.

The Cowboys needed everything to go right for them if they were to deny Melbourne. It took just four minutes for it to go horribly wrong.

Shaun Fensom and teammate Ethan Lowe came rushing into a tackle, Lowe flying around with his legs collecting Fensom's legs.

Play was delayed for more than 10 minutes as Fensom screamed in pain with a suspected broken leg. By the time the painkillers kicked in and he was waving to the Cowboys fans from the medicab to assure them he was okay, the match already felt beyond them.

The Cowboys got into the grind with Melbourne and held their own for the next 20 minutes.

They were on the attack, trying to contest a bomb, when the ball fell to Storm centre Will Chambers, who then found winger Josh Addo-Carr who then motored downfield for the opening try.

After that, it was Felise Kaufusi running onto a short ball from Billy Slater close to the line to score the second. Soon after that, Slater was going over for the third. It had started.

"It's hard to see them coming back from this," one of the on-field referees was heard saying over Sports Ears.

They shouldn't have an opinion, let alone voice it with the rest of us listening in, but at 18-0 it was an easy one to form.

With captain Cameron Smith running the show with typical composure out of dummy half, and Chambers causing trouble each time he touched the ball, the margin was the only thing in doubt.

But the Cowboys, bless them, are stronger than this.

For the past three weeks, they've travelled to Sydney, knocked over more fancied local teams, and then travelled home with the upset victory.

Early in the second half, Melbourne did what Melbourne does, screwing down their opponent, prepared to give away penalty after penalty on their own line to frustrate the other side into submission.

Instead, the Cowboys held their nerve. Five-eighth Te Maire Martin found a sliver of space in the defensive line and scored. At 18-6, the game was alive, if ever so slightly.

Then, with 15 minutes remaining, Smith played them off a break.

His side were on the attack, five metres out from the line, directly in the shadows of the posts. Smith looked right, telegraphing to everyone that the ball would be shifting out that way.

Lock Dale Finucane was in on the con job. He gobbled up the pass from close range and scored and from there, as expected, Melbourne ran away with it.

Coach Craig Bellamy made his way down from the coach's box to the sideline well before fulltime and he has every right to be thinking more titles beckon from here.

Smith, Slater and halfback Cooper Cronk are already modern-day greats but this result underlines the point.

Cronk has played his last match in purple but if there was ever a side capable of plugging the hole and being back here, on this night in a year's time, it's this one.

Slater will probably go next year. Smith the year after that. Bellamy, off contract at the end of next season, might be tempted to prove himself at another club.

The band won't stay together for much long, although Melbourne are convinced those significant departures won't see the place collapse, so strong are the structures in place. Others aren't so sure.

Until then, the question remains unanswered. We'll have keep asking it: Who will stop the Melbourne Storm?

Dynamic duo: Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith of. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts

Dynamic duo: Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith of. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts