April 22, 2010 is a date which sends shivers down a Melbourne Storm fan’s spine.
At around 3.00pm, then NRL chief David Gallop called a press conference. Not many could have foreseen what was about to occur.
The Melbourne Storm were stripped of their 2007 and 2009 NRL premierships, their 2006, 2007 and 2009 minor premierships and the 2010 World Club Challenge.
They were also to play out the 2010 season without earning any more premiership points and to be stripped of the ones already acquired. They were fined $1.689 million to boot.
The game changed that day. Never before had a club been stripped of two premierships, let alone one. The biggest penalty beforehand was the removal of premiership points and a $500,000 fine, handed down to the Bulldogs for a salary cap breach in 2002.
Despite a new stadium, the Storm were under pressure to relocate. Some fans left merchandise outside the headquarters of the Storm at Princes Park.
It’s times like these that make or break a football club. The players and staff could easily have folded. But that is not how Melbourne sports teams take things.
A few days later, coach Craig Bellamy led his team out onto AAMI Park to face the media, united as one. This signified how tough this side was, and that they would be back.
Ultimately, players would have to go. The biggest name was Greg Inglis. He initially signed a contract with the Brisbane Broncos, before joining South Sydney. Many thought that Melbourne would still feel the pinch heading into the 2011 season. They couldn’t have been more wrong if they tried.
Melbourne opened the new season with an 18-6 win over Manly and really didn’t look back, with only five losses on the cards for the normal season, as they finished minor premiers. However there was doubt over the side, as the final two matches of the season were losses.
They put a little ease to this doubt in the qualifying final, as they came out and beat Newcastle 18-8.
They then moved through to the preliminary final, were they would take on the Warriors. In front of 28,580 fans at AAMI Park, the Storm choked, going down 12-20.
Many experts thought it was the end of an era and that the Storm simply weren’t ready yet for another crack at the premiership.
The Storm recruited well over the off-season and started 2012 alight, winning their first nine games. The Sydney media jumped back on the bandwagon and they were installed as premiership favourites. Then, disaster struck.
Superstar Billy Slater strained his posterior cruciate ligament in State of Origin game two. He was to sit out for a number of weeks. Melbourne lost five matches in a row from round 16-21, their second worst losing streak in their short history and the worst under coach Craig Bellamy.
The media jumped off, putting the Storm’s premiership chances down at any chance they had. Round 22 came around and the Storm hit back, smashing Penrith 46-6. They went on to win every game for the rest of the season. Finals were around the corner.
Storm were to play South Sydney at home in the qualifying final. In front of 19,750, the Rabbitohs were soundly beaten 24-6. Melbourne were through to another preliminary final.
There were never any thoughts of the previous season. The Storm thumped Manly 40-12. Three years after their last, Melbourne were in the grand final.
They were to play the Bulldogs; minor premiers and warm favourites. Everyone and their dog was on Canterbury, spearheaded by their own superstar full back Ben Barba. It really didn’t matter, by the early minutes of the decider at ANZ Stadium, it was quite clear who would win the match.
Ryan Hoffman, Billy Slater and Justin O’Neill all scored tries, with Cameron Smith slotting a goal to give the Storm a 14-4 win over Canterbury. Melbourne were champions of the NRL for 2012. Craig Bellamy and Smith were presented with the NRL Premiership trophy.
The only thing that would have been sweeter would have been David Gallop handing the trophy to them, but he was sacked earlier in the year.
The question now is, can Melbourne continue on their dynasty that was interrupted by the events of 2010? The Storm will take on Leeds in the 2013 World Club Challenge before getting the 2013 season underway. Who will be the challenger next season?