After a performance that would have many assuming Manly players raided Anthony Watmough’s Stilnox supply, it’s still hard to get a true bearing on Melbourne’s form heading into the grand final.
They cleaned up the reigning premiers 40-12 in a seven tries to two thrashing and looked slick in passages of the game, especially with quick movement around the rucks.
The Storm utilised the the inside pass after the first ball from the ruck to great effect. They easily beat what was in front of them, and nothing more could be asked of them.
But in reality, what was in front of them was an embarrassment.
There is not a side in the competition that wouldn’t have beaten Manly tonight, such was the ineptitude of their game.
It is hard to imagine a more painful 80 minutes for Sea Eagles supporters, who must have been wondering who these players were in maroon and white.
From the opening tackle when Anthony Watmough dropped the ball, to the haplessness of Tony Williams spilling the first pass from a tap re-start, which led directly to Melbourne’s first try, it is hard to recall a more diabolical performance from a side in a finals game.
Perhaps, the St George Dragons collapse in the 1975 grand final against Easts is comparable, just.
Manly failed to hold the ball for more than two tackles in a set eight times in the game.
Just what Daly Cherry-Evans was thinking when he twice failed to kick a goal-line drop out ten metres is unclear. Injuries to Matt Ballin and Steve Matai didn’t help the cause and Jason King could not have been playing at 100% fitness.
Perhaps a pain-killing needle to his shoulder caused him to lose the feeling in his hands.
You hate to be critical as a fan and getting to the preliminary final as reigning premiers is a great effort in the salary cap era. Expert analyst Daniel Anderson on ABC Grandstand picked the Eagles to win, as did TV’s Andrew Johns and Darren Lockyer.
But the horror show at AAMI Park was best summed up by Channel Nine commentator Ray Warren. As Brett Kite knocked on on the first tackle in the last 40 seconds of the game, Warren commented, “Well, the game is going to finish as it started.”
Which brings us back to the Storm. As clinical as they were tonight, this was a stroll for them, a gift wrapped up with a bow on top.
Coach Craig Bellamy would be delighted that his side are in the grand final but I wonder whether he might have been hoping for a sterner test.
Their game against Souths a fortnight ago looked to be running a similar course and they are the common denominator in those two below-par efforts from their opponents.
Yet it would be wrong to say that the mistakes made by Manly were a result of ferocious defence or relentless pressure.
Perhaps in that respect the Storm may have something in the tank when they face what will surely be a sterner test next weekend against the Bulldogs or the Rabbitohs.