Grand Final Thoughts: Many good judges remarked pre-match how well the Melbourne Storm looked relative to their three previous Grand Finals, noting how the team looked fresher and more focussed. The senior players looked happy and loose. The coaching staff weren’t waging wars through the media. The younger players looked comfortable with their roles. The lessons of 2008 had been learned and Craig Bellamy and company were never going to let a second chance slip. And they didn’t. Melbourne were so efficient and clinical in that first half that even though they only led 10-0 at the break the match seemed over. Cooper Cronk was kicking beautifully and directing traffic. Brett Finch was playing the foil so well and set up the opening try with a delightful short ball to the barnstorming Ryan Hoffman who was fuelled by atonement. Jarryd Hayne was almost totally shutdown. When he did get involved it was to kick and his kicking game was abhorrent, placing the Storm in Eels territory for the first twenty minutes.
Tragedy at Homebush: A monumental season came to a painful and nasty end on Friday night for the Bulldogs. The fairytale ended in tragedy. Cinderella was no longer going to the ball. The opening set of the match was something out of a war zone. Fuifui Moimoi was hit by a Ben Hannant torpedo. The Bulldogs gave no quarter and won the opening exchange. And then the Eels kicked, Parramatta chased, Luke Patten recovered and moments later he was out cold. One of the key Bulldogs players lay unconscious on the turf. He would return late in the second half but he wouldn’t be the same. The Bulldogs were outplayed in the first half and were the victims of some ridiculously bad decisions from officials including two bad touch judge rulings. See a scrum feed to Parramatta for Ben Roberts allegedly playing at a ball he was trying to get away from and a touch judge ruling a 40/20 when the ball had clearly travelled dead.
Finals Summary #1: Parramatta were hardly challenged by a disappointing Gold Coast team who threw very little at the Eels. The Gold Coast led 2-0 early but come the twenty minute mark and Parramatta had broken through. An early injury to Ashley Harrison and some questionable officiating hurt the Titans but it was no excuse for such an insipid display, particularly after Eels playmaker Daniel Mortimer left the field early with a hip injury. The Eels led 13-2 at half-time and come full-time it was 27-2. The match broke no records for quality. The Eels stars were quiet but the no-frills brigade of Todd Lowrie, Kevin Kingston and Matt Keating got the team home. Parramatta knocked up another win and defensively they were solid but they were lacking any real oomph with the ball and in all honesty they were hardly challenged defensively.
Finals Summary #1: Melbourne burst into premiership favouritism after a clinical and destructive display that showed Manly up as the pretenders they were. And come Sunday afternoon it was a win that would consign Manly to the scrapheap of also-rans in 2009. Manly are a team that need to start well and when they don’t they stand no chance. They are bullies and when the vinegar is applied they go to water. And so it was on Friday night. Anthony Watmough, who earlier that day had the bottle to compare himself to Steve Menzies, messed up the initial play-the-ball and Melbourne scored before Manly touched the ball again.
Tragedy at Homebush: The entire season flashed before my eyes, the colour drained from my face and the prospect of vomiting was a very real one. Brett Kimmorley was being assisted off the field after only five minutes, his face broken and contorted in pain. The word from the sheds did nothing to quell the sinking feeling of despair, angst and sadness. Brett Kimmorley had a depressed fracture of the cheekbone and possibly the eye socket. He would be out for at least three weeks but most likely the remainder of the season. The most important player in the Bulldogs resurgence this season would miss at least the first semi-final and most likely the preliminary final and grand final if the Bulldogs make it that far. The injury was so serious that Kimmorley’s family was jettisoned to the sheds. The premiership seemed all but won. The gods then sought their wrath. The Bulldogs are now relying on Ben Roberts and Daniel Holdsworth to get us home. Ye Gods, the horror, the shame! Our only hope is that a Horace Grant like mask is developed immediately and Noddy comes back with a fractured cheekbone to guide us to a preliminary final victory. Noddy Lector is our last chance. That and the mercy of the sporting gods whom are now demanding at least two hours of prayer a day and the sacrifice of someone very important.
Like A Rick Stone: “Now you don’t talk so loud. Now you don’t seem so proud.” Brian Smith was shown the door on Friday night by the Newcastle Knights board with assistant Rick Stone elevated to the top job for at least the next two seasons. The Rick Stone era has officially begun. And Brian Smith once again left the house in shame: you can’t get enough money on his tenure at the Roosters ending in tears. The decision to fire Smith came a fortnight too late but it may have been just in time to save the Knights finals hopes after Newcastle turned in one of their best performances of the year to down the Melbourne Storm. The players had clearly given up on Smith and were phoning it in over the last three weeks.
Melbourne Minus GI: The race for the 2009 NRL Premiership is down to a race in two if the suspension of Greg Inglis remains in place until the end of the season. The weakness of the Melbourne Storm this season has been their inability to score tries. The Storm rank tenth in the NRL in tries scored at 3.6 per match. Inglis is the Storm’s top try scorer with nine while he ranks third in try assists with eight. He is one of only two Storm backs with sixty plus tackle breaks.
The Shame of Queensland: 21 seasons under Wayne Bennett and the Broncos never embarrassed themselves, Brisbane and Queensland like they have over the last two months. The traditional powerhouse who has not missed a finals series since 1991 has won only one match in their last eight, conceding an astonishing 293 points in those seven defeats at an average of 41.86 points per match. On Saturday night they were beaten 56-0 by a team who was only two wins off last spot. Brisbane has never finished with a negative differential yet currently are 137 the wrong side of zero with only five matches to play. Most concerning for the Broncos organisation is that the problems are deep rooted and could hold the club down for years. The loss of Wayne Bennett is the most cited reason and while his absence is certainly a contributing factor to the insipid displays Brisbane are turning out, it is the politics that drove him out of the club he made great that is the real issue
Special K: A few thoughts on the Karmichael Hunt defection to the AFL before I find a bottle of whiskey and read the extreme and apocalyptic opinions of the crazed NRL and AFL columnists of the mainstream newspapers.