Bulldogs more than ready to meet the eye of the Storm
Nathan Brown says the high-flying storm will win the NRL premiership (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Renee McKay)
The raging Storm, emanating from Melbourne, doesn’t have the 2012 NRL title to itself – far from it.
Minor premiers Canterbury showed their premiership mettle with a 32-8 triumph over South Sydney at ANZ Stadium, in a highly impressive tune-up for next Sunday’s decider.
After some early palpitations, Des Hasler’s Bulldogs hit their straps and proved way too classy for the Rabbitohs, posting an emphatic six tries to one win in front of a near-record crowd of 70,354.
Their win gives coach Hasler the unique chance of winning back-to-back-titles with different clubs, after he mentored Manly’s grand final triumph in 2011.
As much as the players, modest mentor Hasler will undoubtedly be one of the main stories of grand final week. He will earn a slice of rugby league history if the Bulldogs go all the way.
Next Sunday’s Big Dance – as everyone seems to be calling it these days – is going to be of epic proportions.
Melbourne have hardly missed a beat in their 2012 finals campaign with romps over Souths and Manly, while Canterbury looked systematic and slick in their wins against Manly and the Rabbits.
It is shaping as one heck of a game. The big names on both sides of the GF fence are all in outstanding form and, at this stage, there are no major injuries, nor possible suspensions, that may leave either camp short-staffed.
Souths looked fantastic for the majority of the first half but they have yet to learn how to play the big games without clocking off.
Michael Maguire’s charges had the Dogs back-pedalling big-time with an 8-4 lead midway through the first half, thanks to a burrowing, close-to-the-line try by hooker Isaac Luke and a couple of goals from star halfback Adam Reynolds.
Just when everyone thought an upset was brewing, Lady Luck intervened and gave Souths much more than a slap the face. Rabbitohs playmaker Reynolds, the Dally M Rookie of the Year, suffered a hamstring tear as he hared after a kick in the 26th minute.
He left the field and did not return for the rest of the game.
The Souths camp will forever wonder what might have been if he did come back. Sadly, his loss would not be covered by the red and greens and Canterbury sensed it.
In the three minutes leading up to half time, the Dogs posted tries by wingers Sam Perrett and Jonathan Wright, creating a match-winning shift in the scoreline and ultimately, the match momentum.
The Dogs trailed 8-4 in the 37th minute but went to the break ahead 16-8, sending proud Souths’ chins to their chests.
The second half began as a clinic by the Bulldogs and ended up as a celebration.
Souths tried valiantly to stem the blue and white tide but it was to no avail, as Perrett scored again with a freakish touchdown in the right hand corner in the 55th minute.
Spectacular tries followed by the tank-like Frank Pritchard and Greg Eastwood, setting the party into overdrive for the Bulldogs faithful.
Melbourne Storm players would have been watching from afar. They would certainly have shifted uneasily in their armchairs as the Canterbury machine roared into top gear.
For the Dogs, just about every player used by Hasler played a starring role. I thought mid-season centre gain Krishnan Inu was a standout and not far behind were half Kris Keating, lock Eastwood, prop James Graham and the two-try winger, Perrett.
Souths, with Hollywood stars Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman cheering them on, were dreaming of a fairytale finish to their exciting season with a grand final appearance, but the loss of halfback Reynolds was a body blow they could not counter.
Best for the Rabbits were Greg Inglis, Roy Asotasi and Luke, while man mountain Dave Taylor – in his last outing for the club before joining the Titans – was a major disappointment.
This guy has loads of ability but for mine, he looks like Tarzan and far too often plays like Jane. I sincerely hope he plays like a Titan when he moves to the Gold Coast. If not, he will be remembered as a Nearly Man and what a waste that would be.
Souths now have a taste of the big stuff and should be much better for the experience. Coach Michael Maguire has heaps of ability to work with in 2013 and his team should finish in the upper echelon again.
But back to the grand final. What a game in prospect!
So many superstars of the game will be shining – and colliding – in this one. Roll on Sunday night.
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