Manly laid claim to the greatest grand final triumph of all time as they thumped reigning NRL premiers and arch-nemesis Melbourne 40-0 at ANZ Stadium tonight.
The win avenged their 2007 loss and sent veteran forward Steve Menzies out a winner in the sweetest moment of his career.
The Sea Eagles produced their best display of the season at the best possible time, returning the premiership trophy to Sydney’s northern beaches for the first time since 1996 – a triumph Menzies also played a part in.
But as he bowed out of the NRL with a record equalling 349th appearance, Menzies said tonight’s win took the cake.
“I think it has got to surpass it. I’ve always said that is my greatest moment, winning a premiership, and to do it in my final season and the way we did it tonight it is definitely better,” he said.
“I didn’t dream it would be a day like that and the score would be like that, it is unbelievable.”
The winning margin eclipsed Eastern Suburbs’ 38-0 win over St George in 1975 as the biggest in a decider, with a tired Melbourne – who delivered their worst display of 2008 – the first side since Cronulla in the 1978 replay to be held scoreless in a grand final.
It was a thumping few could have predicted, given the Storm had the wood on the Sea Eagles with victories in their past three meetings, the turnaround leaving chief executive Grant Mayer shellshocked.
“This has got to go down as one of the greatest grand final victories ever,” Mayer said.
“Nobody could have seen that coming.”
Up 8-0 at the break, the Sea Eagles broke the back of the Melbourne resistance seven minutes after the restart when a pin-point Matt Orford kick found Michael Robertson out wide for his second of the night, Steve Matai’s sideline conversion taking the margin beyond two converted tries.
Robertson’s third four minutes later kick-started the party – a party of precision football which went into overdrive when Menzies returned for the final nine minutes to replace an injured Steve Matai.
One minute later he was over for the seventh of the Eagles’ eight tries, capping the fairytale.
“Fifteen minutes to go I wanted to go to the sheds, my nerves were so high I couldn’t watch it,” Menzies said.
And of the possibility of backing up one more time for the Eagles’ World Club Challenge clash against Leeds next year, Menzies said: “Maybe, obviously I’ve signed with Bradford but I will see how I’m feeling … I would like to come back.”
For the Storm, the loss left them looking back on their three years of dominance with a feeling of underachievment, Melbourne with just one premiership to show for a period in which they won 80 per cent of their games and three minor premierships.
Their title defence never recovered from the suspension of skipper Cameron Smith, the Test rake a forlorn figure as he sat on the sidelines watching a machine which all season had operated like a Ferrari, suddenly looking more like a 1983 Cortina in need of a service.
“I certainly didn’t see that coming, we ran into a pretty red hot side tonight and we just couldn’t seem to stem the tide in the second half,” Bellamy said.
“We didn’t perform that well – our defence was soft in the first half and got softer in the second half … we probably left our worst till last.”
Manly coach Des Hasler said it was reward for 12 months of hard work which started a short time after the Sea Eagles were smacked 34-8 by the Storm in last year’s decider.
“It sticks in the memory that’s for sure – the reason you play the game is to experience a grand final win,” Hasler said.
“I just thought coming in we were playing some really good footy, I just think everything fell into place at the right time.”
Now Hasler wants his players’ efforts repaid when Test selectors name the Australian squad on Tuesday for the upcoming World Cup, Clive Churchill medallist Brent Kite, Brett and Glenn Stewart, Anthony Watmough and Orford all doing their chances plenty of good.
“I think a few players need to be rewarded, I think some of the players certainly put their hand up for the World Cup squad tonight,” Hasler said.
“Including this man (pointing to Orford), the skipper of the Manly side and the Dally M player of the year.”