NRL Grand Final: Super Storm spoil Cowboys’ fairytale with runaway victory

Melbourne Storm celebrate Sunday's Grand Final success.

Melbourne Storm celebrate Sunday's Grand Final success. Photo: Getty

The Western Bulldogs. Cronulla. Cleveland. Chicago Cubs. Leicester City.

Sports fans have seen a host of fairytales in recent years and Richmond added its name to the expanding list on Saturday in the AFL grand final.

One more, in the form of the North Queensland Cowboys, proved to be just too much of a stretch.

The Cowboys, outclassed 34-6 by the Melbourne Storm in Sunday’s NRL decider, played much of the season without the greatest player on the planet, Johnathan Thurston, and star veteran Matt Scott.

That they even made the finals was impressive.

A last-round defeat to the Brisbane Broncos looked to have extinguished the Cowboys’ chances, only for the Canterbury Bulldogs to give them a reprieve with an upset win over the St George Illawarra Dragons in the last match of the season.

Throughout 2017, the Cowboys were patchy, and as a result, they were completely unfancied in the finals, only to come from behind to upset the Cronulla Sharks, Parramatta Eels and Sydney Roosters in successive weeks, a remarkable run that captured the imagination of a nation.

Against the Storm, the Cowboys, once again, fell behind early, trailing 18-0 at the break.

But this time, there was no coming back.

After a stalemate that stretched nearly 20 minutes, the Storm took control of the first half, with Josh Addo-Carr’s stunning opener setting the tone for the evening.

Will Chambers created space for Addo-Carr, beating a trio of players before offloading for the speedster, who brilliantly swerved through the Cowboys on a sizzling 70m run that Storm fans will never forget.

Josh Addo-Carr Melbourne Storm

Josh Addo-Carr bagged a double to cap a remarkable season. Photo: Getty

It was a try devoid of ‘Big Three’ involvement, but Smith, Clive Churchill Medallist Billy Slater and departing hero Cooper Cronk more than made up for it, the star trio combining for Felise Kaufusi’s 28th-minute try, and it just got better for those of a Melbourne persuasion.

With only two first-half minutes remaining, Slater, the all-time leading try scorer in finals, drove a dagger through North Queensland hearts, dummying to his right before bursting past Justin O’Neill to score.

The Cowboys threatened just once in the first half, when Kyle Feldt caught a Cronk kick and ran 60m, breaking tackles left, right and centre, only for the half-time siren to sound.

It was clear in that moment – and Shaun Fensom’s serious knee injury that saw him stretchered off – that it would not be the Cowboys’ night.

They would keep fighting, of course, such is the narrative of the Cowboys.

And for the first 20 minutes of the second half, they were the better side.

The Cowboys finally scored after several repeat sets, through Te Maire Martin, who stepped inside Cameron Munster after Michael Morgan’s pass.

But Morgan and star lock Jason Taumalolo could not provide the sort of inspiration they had in weeks previous.

Taumalolo may have become the first forward in history to rack up 5000 running metres in a season on Sunday, but his output was down, and Dale Finucane’s 64th-minute try effectively ended the contest.

Smith, who was excellent and would have been a deserving Clive Churchill winner, fed Finucane at first receiver, and he barged past Gavin Cooper and Ben Hampton to score.

The bear-hug Smith gave Finucane after the try said it all.

Melbourne knew it had weathered the storm. It knew it had won.

Melbourne Storm celebrations

The Storm celebrate as the Cowboys contemplate. Photo: Getty

Rising star Curtis Scott, just 19, then bagged the first of what could be many grand final tries, before Addo-Carr added further gloss to the scoreline for the Storm, ending a wonderful team move highlighted by Tohu Harris’ long-distance pass out wide.

A 28-point margin was perhaps a little unfair on the Cowboys, but this certainly looked like a clash between first and eighth.

Finding holes in the Storm is difficult, but if you were looking for negatives, you could – before this victory – have pointed to their failure to convert competition dominance into title victories.

Although two premierships, won in 2007 and 2009, were stripped due to salary cap breaches, a side boasting the likes of Smith, Cronk and Slater, and coach Craig Bellamy, for so long, ought to have won more than one legitimate championship this millennium.

And now they have.

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