MELBOURNE Storm confirmed their place as one of rugby league’s all-time great teams with a 34-6 triumph against North Queensland in the 2017 grand final at ANZ Stadium on Sunday.
Runaway minor premiers after losing only four regular-season games, Melbourne were just as dominant in the premiership decider, ending the Cowboys’ fairytale finals run in emphatic fashion.
The comprehensive victory has allowed champion halfback Cooper Cronk, appearing in his seventh grand final, to sign off in fitting style.
Cronk announced in April he would be moving to Sydney at the end of this season, bringing to an end his on-field association with the other two members of Melbourne’s “Big Three” – Cameron Smith and Billy Slater.
The masterful trio have each won four grand finals, although they were stripped of their 2007 and 2009 titles after the Storm were found to have systematically rorted the salary cap.
Melbourne led 18-0 at half-time and even when Cowboys five-eighth Te Maire Martin scored in the 48th minute to reduce the deficit, a comeback never appeared likely.
The Cowboys suffered a terrible setback in only the fourth minute, when workhorse lock Shaun Fensom was replaced with what appeared to be a broken leg.
Fensom immediately raised his arm to catch the attention of support staff and, after a lengthy delay, was carried from the field on a medicab.
After an engrossing arm wrestle, Melbourne opened the scoring in the 20th minute when centre Will Chambers fielded a Cowboys bomb and linked with winger Josh Addo-Carr, who outpaced the cover in a 78-metre sprint to the line.
Eight minutes later, Cronk and Slater combined to serve up a try on a platter for back-rower Felise Kaufusi.
Three minutes before the break, Slater crossed for the third grand final try of his career. He later joined former Canberra lock Brad Clyde as the only two-time Clive Churchill Medallists.
Second-half tries by lock Dale Finucane, centre Curtis Scott and Addo-Carr rammed home Melbourne’s advantage, and Smith kicked five goals from six attempts.