Robert Dillon: Sporting Declaration

IN hindsight, perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Melbourne Storm’s resounding success last weekend is how long it had been since their previous grand final win.

SIMPLY THE BEST: Melbourne players celebrate after their comprehensive victory against North Queensland in last Sunday's grand final. Picture: AAP

SIMPLY THE BEST: Melbourne players celebrate after their comprehensive victory against North Queensland in last Sunday's grand final. Picture: AAP

Can you believe it was way back in 2012? It almost seems they have been premiers for each of the past five seasons, such is their dominance.

I can’t remember a team who have been so far in front of the pack, and so apparently unassailable.

It was a brave effort by North Queensland, of course, to reach the decider, especially in the absence of champions Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott.

But I never gave them a serious chance of a boilover. The Storm just looked too strong, across the board, and there was always the suspicion that the Cowboys’ dream run would come to a disappointing end.

That is no disrespect to North Queensland, because whoever played Melbourne would surely have suffered a similar fate.

Indeed, it strikes me as slightly futile comparing Melbourne – who lost only four games all season, including two without their Origin stars – to their 2017 rivals.

What we should be doing is measuring them alongside Storm teams of the past, and other outstanding champions of bygone eras.

In 2012, Melbourne finished second to Canterbury in the minor premiership and ground out a 14-4 win against the Bulldogs in the only game that counts.

They were clinical and relentless but perhaps lacked the firepower out wide that Suliasi Vunivalu and Josh Addo-Carr have provided.

In 2007, their first premiership under Craig Bellamy, their regular-season record was an unbelievable 21 wins and three defeats. They hammered Manly 34-8 in the grand final.

That team included the likes of Greg Inglis, Matt King and Israel Folau, so you could argue their backline was even more potent than their 2017 counterparts.

But this year’s team scored 633 points in the preliminary rounds, compared to 627 in 2007. And the achievements of the Storm’s 2007 and 2009 sides are accompanied by an asterix, denoting the fact they were stripped of those titles for rorting the salary cap.

For mine, this is the best all-round Melbourne side Bellamy has produced, although if Inglis and Folau were available, they would undoubtedly get a start.

How do they compare with other outstanding teams Sporting Declaration has seen? Parramatta (1981-83 and 1986), Canterbury (1984-85 and 1988), Brisbane (1992-93, 1997-98 and 2000) and Canberra (1989-90 and 1994) were all class acts.

I still think the best of them, man for man, were the Raiders in 1994, with a team sheet that included names like Meninga, Stuart, Daley, Clyde, Mullins, Croker, Nadruku, Furner, Walters etc etc.

They lapped the Bulldogs 36-12 in the grand final, yet surprisingly did not finish as minor premiers.

I’d back this Storm side against them any day.

Somehow, despite the disappointment of finishing runners-up to Cronulla last year and then losing Kevin Proctor, Blake Green and Marika Koroibete in the off-season, Bellamy has reinvented his team and made them even stronger.

The return of Billy Slater obviously helped.

Now the challenge for Bellamy will be to overcome the departures of Cooper Cronk, Jordan Mclean, Tohu Harris and Slade Griffin.

Nothing lasts forever. Slater and skipper Cameron Smith have maybe a season or two left in them.

Is their era nearing an end? I’ve long since given up doubting them.

Defections to make or break World Cup

PERHAPS we should reserve judgment on Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita until after the World Cup.

Inconsiderate timing aside, their defections to Tonga could yet make the tournament truly special.

On paper at least, the Tongans appear to have a squad capable of making the semi-finals and even the final. If they can reach the decider, imagine the excitement that would create.

In saying that, the cards of both Taumalolo and Fifita should be stamped. If they’d rather play for Tonga, they have surely turned their backs forever on the Kiwi and Kangaroo jerseys respectively.

NFL trial poised to turn heads

INTRIGUING news from America, where the Charlotte Observer has revealed Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly is the first NFL player to trial a neck collar sports scientists hope can counter concussion.

The “Q collar” is designed to wrap around the back of the neck, pressing lightly on the jugular vein, slowing blood flow out of the brain cavity.

The theory – based, believe it or not on a woodpecker’s physiology – is that if there is slightly more blood in the skull, it will cushion the brain against heavy impacts. 

It’s still in the research stage but could it be a game-changer for contact sports?