Otago Daily Times

Storm’s ti­tle hailed as its great­est

RUGBY LEAGUE NRL grand fi­nal

- Melbourne .............................. 26 Sports · Rugby · Craig Bellamy · Stadium Australia · Sunshine Coast · Cameron Smith · Brandon Smith · Billy Slater · Cooper Cronk

SYD­NEY: Craig Bel­lamy has hailed Melbourne’s 2020 pre­mier­ship as the finest in the club’s il­lus­tri­ous his­tory af­ter it held off a charg­ing Pen­rith to win a bizarre NRL grand fi­nal 26­20.

But just like ev­ery­thing else this year, it did not come eas­ily.

In a nerve­rack­ing fin­ish at ANZ Sta­dium, Pen­rith came from 26 points down with 28 min­utes to play to re­duce the mar­gin to six with just three sec­onds re­main­ing.

With the Storm down to 11 men af­ter Jahrome Hughes and Bran­don Smith were sent to the sin bin, Pen­rith had one fi­nal play to level the scores from the kick­off af­ter a late Nathan Cleary try.

But af­ter they went back and forth across the field, the ball landed in Felise Kau­fusi’s hands to wrap up Melbourne’s fourth ti­tle and by far its gut­si­est.

It brought to an end Pen­rith’s record­break­ing sea­son, halt­ing its win­ning streak at 17 and with­out the ma­jor prize.

Melbourne is the most dom­i­nant team of the 21st cen­tury, but none of its tri­umphs have had a back story like this one.

The play­ers have not slept in their own beds since June, hav­ing been forced into camp firstly in Syd­ney be­fore set­tling on the Sun­shine

Coast due to the Covid­19 out­break in Vic­to­ria.

It is also the club’s first pre­mier­ship with­out all of the big three on the park — the exit of Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk was orig­i­nally ex­pected to spell its demise.

‘‘For what our guys have been through and all their fam­i­lies have been through, I would put it up the top of the grand fi­nal wins we had,’’ Bel­lamy said.

‘‘I al­ways thought 2012 was the spe­cial one af­ter what hap­pened in 2010.

‘‘But this year there have been cir­cum­stances and sit­u­a­tions where I thought some might want to pack up and go home.

‘‘But they all stuck through.’’ Cap­tain Cameron Smith also praised his team’s tough­ness, as he left his fu­ture un­known af­ter scor­ing his first grand fi­nal try on half­time.

‘‘We un­der­stood what we had to do and the rea­sons for it,’’ Smith said.

‘‘We wanted this com­pe­ti­tion to con­tinue and that’s why we did it.’’

It was just the Pan­thers’ sec­ond loss of the year but they fin­ish with lit­tle re­ward for one of the finest sea­sons in mem­ory.

‘‘Frus­trat­ing game. I still can’t quite ex­plain the game yet,’’ coach Ivan Cleary said. ‘

‘I will need a bit of time for that.

‘‘Apart from the score­board I felt like we were go­ing OK.

‘‘The one thing I am so proud of our boys, they could not have tried any harder.

‘‘I would love to have the game again to­mor­row.’’ — AAP

 ?? PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES ?? The Cam show . . . Storm cap­tain Cameron Smith (right) and team­mate Cameron Mun­ster hold the pre­mier­ship tro­phy af­ter their side’s win in the NRL grand fi­nal at ANZ Sta­dium in Syd­ney on Sun­day night.
PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES The Cam show . . . Storm cap­tain Cameron Smith (right) and team­mate Cameron Mun­ster hold the pre­mier­ship tro­phy af­ter their side’s win in the NRL grand fi­nal at ANZ Sta­dium in Syd­ney on Sun­day night.
 ??  ?? Craig Bel­lamy
Craig Bel­lamy

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