Bulldogs forward James Graham tackles Storm skipper Cameron Smith in the NRL grand final
Photo: Getty Images
NRL GRAND FINAL HEROES & GOATS: Smith, Norrie and Cronk enhance their reputations as Barba, the Bulldogs' props and Graham the grub sully theirs...
The Storm skipper kicked like a lame mule, missing four of five attempts at goal, but this was the only blemish on a typically dominant performance. He ran over 100m, kicked astutely, and made 36 tackles without missing one. His determination to hold up rival skipper Michael Ennis over the line was inspirational. This hero is also a GOAT – the Greatest Of All Time in his position.
The man who typifies Storm's ethic of recruiting unfashionable footballers played a blinder and was the best prop on the field. He consistently made big metres and refused to be overawed by the Bulldogs' quality pack.
We had him as Melbourne's third best player just marginally behind Smith and Norrie, but few could quibble with his selection as Clive Churchill Medal winner. He gave the Bulldogs no field position to work with by continually kicking the ball where his opponents wanted it least, ran the ball more than he usually does and refused to get impatient when his side could not convert dominance into points.
On a day when any young player might feel overawed (we're thinking of you, Benny Barba) the confident pivot was his team's best. He ran further than any other player, made more tackle breaks than any other player and kicked adequately. On the debit side, he missed more tackles than any other player and could not weave much magic in attack, but it was not his fault that the Bulldogs were beaten.
The Storm five-eighth saved a try by chasing down a runaway Reynolds as he sped down the right touchline, then dispossessed him in one of the game's crucial moments.
The ex-Rooster was held fairly quiet, but his great hands and true winger's instinct led to him scoring a very good try.
No other side plays as a unit the way Storm does. Haters will continue to hate, but only those who are biased could decry the fanatical way Melbourne players support their teammates, get extra men into tackles, run decoys and do all the team things. They are a sensational club and deserve this success.
Would the Bulldogs have been happy if told pre-season that the former Manly guru could take them to the grand final in 2012? You bet they would. His standing as a coach has gone to a new level this season – and who would bet against the Dogs going one better in 2013?
Tony Archer and Ben Cummins
After a controversial finals series the men in pink did well.
We know that his biting is still "alleged" but Archer said there was visible damage, and the evidence against him - including video footage - is damning. Graham has been superb this year and we love the way he plays, but he should be given 16 weeks minimum if found guilty. The days of 'Bumper' Farrell are long gone, and anyone committing this low act should be heavily punished, especially in a showcase game. Worst of all, the headlines about the grand final will focus on Graham's grubbiness rather than the positives from the match.
After a brilliant year, this was not a fitting end for the fabulous full-back. He looked nervous running out, made a couple of early handling errors and was expertly blanketed by Melbourne all night.
Sam Kasiano, Aiden Tolman and Frank Pritchard
Three of the best – and biggest – forwards in the competition failed to make much yardage against the smaller and less celebrated Melbourne pack. Kasiano and Tolman at least provided some stiff defence, but Pritchard was rarely sighted on either side of the ball.
In the countdown to kick-off TV viewers were subjected to a tedious pre-packaged segment about Joel and Benji Madden cruising around Sydney, one in a Bulldogs shirt and one in a Storm top. Joel was posing with Bulldogs fans and Benji was high-fiving Storm supporters. They talked about how much fun it was to be brothers supporting rival teams in the grand final. Then they drove out onto the ground, with Joel in his Dogs shirt and Benji ... in a South Sydney top. It made a mockery of the long lead-in segment. Bad Charlotte!
The Hogs Breath Café mascot
In years to come, sports historians will ponder exactly why Melbourne Storm's celebrations featured the players, the coaching staff, and a buffoon in a pink fluffy pig's head looking for free airtime.
The veteran announcer made a Barry for the ages when he attempted to congratulate Cooper Cronk on winning the Clive Churchill Medal but said instead, “Well done Cougar, Rothmans Medal winner”. Last time we checked Ronnie Palmer was league's only Cougar (unless you count Charmyne Palavi), and the cigarette-sponsored medal had its last gasp 15 years ago.
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