The first grand final between the two clubs responsible for rugby league’s worst salary cap rorts has shown that the journey to redemption, though painful, can be swift.
The sky caved in for the Bulldogs in 2002 when they were fined $500,000 and docked 37 competition points.
Yet two years later they went from wooden spoon to premiership with a team featuring many of the same players. Sonny Bill Williams came off the bench in the 2004 grand final; that’s how good a side it was.
Ten years later they made it all the way to the decider again, this time as a completely different club that had been changed from top to bottom, off the field and on – with a new administration, new coach, new players and new culture.
Melbourne Storm may well be following a similar path.
Stripped of the 2007 and 2009 titles, fined $1.6 million then made to play pointless in 2010, they were quickly back to the top, winning the minor premiership last year before storming to the 2012 premiership.
Like the Bulldogs before them, many of the same players are still there, including captain Cameron Smith and headline acts Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk. So is coach Craig Bellamy. The only big gun that had to be jettisoned was Greg Inglis.
The past still rankles them. Bellamy this week didn’t even want to mention the name of former Storm chief executive Brian Waldron, the chief architect of the salary cap scandal.
It must be galling to win a premiership only to have that success ripped away, not once but twice.
Slater and others believe in their own minds they were already two-time winners heading into Sunday’s grand final against the Bulldogs.
But the history books will always show they were not.
Even accepting assurances that players who signed two sets of contracts were ignorant of the salary cap cheating, they were no more winners than the Olympic athlete who wins a gold medal only to discover later that his coach has been secretly pumping him full of illegal substances.
The Olympian gets the gold medal taken from him, and on that basis former Manly player Max Krilich is right to suggest the Storm players should all have had to hand back their premiership rings.
Even without knowing of the foul play, those rings were still won through cheating.
Accepting that is tough, but that’s what moving on is all about.
And haven’t they moved on, at least in terms of on-field achievement.
The success and resilience of both Melbourne and Canterbury following unmitigated disasters begs two questions for all clubs.
The first is ethical: why cheat?
The second is practical: why cheat when you don’t have to?
Canterbury have endured their least potent start to a season in 56 years, scoring just 24 points in their opening three losses ahead of Kieran Foran’s return. The Dogs need Foran to make an immediate impact on his return next week as they try to fix their worst start to a season in attack in […]