The 2017 NRL grand final has been won by the Melbourne Storm in a dominant display, defeating the North Queensland Cowboys by 28 points. Here are my talking points from the game.
More 2017 NRL Grand Final
» Perfect Storm were always going to be premiers
» Match report: Storm slam Cowboys
» The Liebke ratings
» North Queensland Cowboys player ratings
» Melbourne Storm player ratings
» Watch video highlights from the match
Are this Storm team the best ever?
The 2017 Melbourne Storm are going to go down in history as one of the best ever. While Craig Bellamy’s side have made seven out of the last 12 grand finals, this is almost undoubtedly the best they have ever been.
The only side over the last decade that can hold a candle to them is the one which was over the salary cap a decade ago.
And sure there have been some good teams in the modern era, and right back through rugby league history, but can any of them truly hold anything up to what the Storm have achieved this year. They have three of the best players to ever lace up a boot, and are a complete side right across the park.
But it’s more than that. They haven’t played a wrestling, slow style of rugby league which was common of Melbourne in the last few years. Genuinely, they have been entertainers.
While their defence, as you’d expect from any Craig Bellamy-coached side has been strong, their attack actually has fans wanting to watch them. Josh Addo-Carr and Suliasi Vunivalu manning the wings are only part of the reason why.
Then there are the forwards. Jesse Bromwich is close to the best prop in the game, Dale Finucane has gone from honest toiler to cusp of Origin selection and Tohu Harris is dangerous – as we saw last night.
Then there’s Nelson Asofa-Solomona, who is an absolute giant, and back out on the edges with youngster Curtis Scott and the veteran Will Chambers. Cap it all off with Cameron Munster, and it’s little wonder why they have been so good.
I’ve praised Melbourne all season long, and it’s been hard not to. But now, with the premiership victory under their belt, and just a couple of losses all season, we can officially put them on a shortlist of the greatest ever teams.
The Cowboys will be back and might just be favourites in 2018
While North Queensland failed to get the job done last night, this is a side who are going into 2018 as the favourites. There is almost no doubt about it.
So long as Johnathan Thurston hasn’t lost his way after spending months on the sidelines, their second half of the season – a giant-killing run to the grand final – has set them up for success when the new season kicks off in March.
Think about it for just a moment. Insert Thurston and rugby league’s best prop Matt Scott back into a grand final team. What does that make them for the next season?
Yeah, premiership favourites.
Sure, Melbourne will be up there again and I expect them to continue going brilliantly with Munster taking over from Cronk, but if Slater is to go as well it becomes a different story altogether.
On top of Scott and Thurston, the Cowboys also welcome Jordan McLean. On top of that, they lost no players from their grand final 17.
If stability is a key, then North Queensland have nailed it for next season.
The amount Michael Morgan has learnt this year leading the team around the park will be only beneficial, while Lachlan Coote has had a strong finals run. Their bench forwards have punched above their weight and Te Maire Martin is going to be a wonderful backup or utility for the next 12 months as he continues to prepare for a complete takeover of Thurston’s position in 2019.
It’ll also be the season where North Queensland can send Thurston out a winner. All the stars are aligning, and with Paul Green at the helm, if they aren’t favourites come Round 1, then something has gone dismally wrong in the pre-season.
So… Jason Taumalolo can be stopped
In saying all of that, last night, we remembered that the Kiwi lock, the human wrecking-ball, can be stopped. It’s possible, but it takes an 80-minute effort in defence.
It’s virtually the first time all season Taumalolo has been even slowed down. He came out of the regular season averaging more than 200 metres per game and stepped it up in the finals, going past 250 in each of the three matches, powering the Cowboys to an unexpected grand final appearance.
Last night, he was limited to just 124 metres from 12 runs. He had less touches of the footy, and while he still made ten metres a carry, it simply wasn’t enough. The Storm defence rushed off the mark, jammed him for space all night, and in the end it was one of the keys to them running away with the match during the back end of the first half and again in the second.
Melbourne’s back five return to the top, so it’s little surprise Melbourne played their best game in a month
It takes one look at the statsheet differences between the grand final and each of the Storm’s previous two finals to understand exactly what made all the difference.
The back five. They all played superb games of footy, getting the Storm’s sets off to fantastic starts, while Billy Slater was also the Clive Churchill medal winner (despite Cameron Smith probably being best on ground – he simply came up with the big play when it was needed).
Josh Addo-Carr made 224 metres from 18 runs and scored a double. He has pace to burn and showed it last night, while Chambers and Scott did their job and then some. Vunivalu was a little quiet with limited opportunity, but still made every touch of the footy count.
Put simply, they are going to become even more important in 2018 without Cronk there to run the show. Coming into the middle and doing more yardage runs are going to be crucial for a Storm team who are likely to be under more pressure at times than what they faced for the majority of 2017.
Cameron Munster is perfectly capable of replacing Cooper Cronk
Munster has grown significantly in 2017, preparing for life after Cronk. He, alongside Jahrome Hughes, is going to be tasked with leading the side from the six and seven next year, and Munster will be the key half.
While he has played a running game this season, which complements Cronk’s kicking fantastically, he has shown time and time again his vision is impeccable and the opportunities kicking have all been taken well.
Consistency is a big theme in Melbourne, and Munster has been just that. He handled the bright lights of State of Origin well and has put in solid performances all finals. He capped it off last night, running for 130 metres, being involved in some good lead-up work and making a staggering 33 tackles – that’s plenty for a half.
He is prepared to roll up the sleeves and do the hard yards, but has been involved in plenty of crisp attacking plays this season as well.
While there may be growing pains, Munster is more than capable of taking over from Cronk.
Roarers, what did you make of the NRL grand final? Drop a comment below and let us know!