Cowboys' brave finals run worthy of praise
IT was an empty end to one of the most dramatic and uplifting months in Cowboys history.
But while the banged-up Cowboys made Melbourne work for every inch, they were almost the perfect Storm in last night's 34-6 grand final win at ANZ Stadium.
The Cowboys were looking to become the first team to win the premiership from outside the top four, but the Storm scored three first half tries to build an 18-0 lead.
The best frontrunners in the business weren't going to be run down from there, despite the Cowboys threatening a comeback through an early second half try to Te Maire Martin.
North Queensland was aiming to spoil Cooper Cronk's Melbourne farewell but the champion halfback was never going to have two ordinary grand finals in a row after he was quiet in last year's loss to Cronulla.
A sickening leg injury to Shaun Fensom in the fourth minute, which held up play for around ten minutes, was the setback the Cowboys couldn't afford against a Melbourne team which lost just four games this year.
The Cowboys have taken advantage of error-riddled displays during the finals from Cronulla, Parramatta and the Roosters. But the frugal Storm didn't give them an inch.
Both teams made just five mistakes for the game and once in front, their clinical man-managers in Cronk, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater did the rest.
Slater was outstanding, setting up a try and scoring another in the first half to set up Melbourne's matchwinning lead.
The fullback broke down when asked by Channel Nine's Brad Fittler when asked after the game if he thought he would win another premiership after two years ruined by injury.
But will he play on next year?
"I don't know yet, my body's feeling really good and I love this game and I'll make a decision soon,” he said.
Cowboys halfback Michael Morgan refused to settle for second best.
"It hurts a lot to play the way we did coming in, they're a very good side,” he told Channel Nine.
"It feels like a waste of a season, we've come this far and the scoreline doesn't reflect the effort we've showed this year.”
Cowboys skipper Gavin Cooper, who has filled the role in the absence of the injured Matt Scott and Johnathan Thurston, said the 2018 version will be stronger after the adversity they've conquered.
"To all the fans who have travelled it's been a heck of a ride,” he said.
"We gave ourselves a chance to do something special but we fell just short.
"We'll be better for what we've done this year, we'll get a couple of guys back, build on what we've done and the sky's the limit.”
Smith paid tribute to the Cowboys' strength of will when accepting the trophy.
"I don't know how you got here to this grand final, it's been amazing,” he said.
"Two key players out for the season, I don't know if there's too many clubs who would have been able to do it.”
After 20 minutes Melbourne scored first after Cooper's bat-back close to Melbourne's line found Will Chambers, who offloaded for Josh Addo-Carr to run 70 metres and the first try of his double.
Eight minutes later, superb lead up play from Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater puts back rower Felise Kaufusi through a yawning gap to double Storm's lead to 12-0.
Three minutes before halftime an error off a Cronk grubber from Cowboys winger Antonio Winterstein gave Melbourne field position.
They capitalised with Slater scything through the Cowboys defence to score.
Eight minutes into the second half the Cowboys gave themselves a sniff when Te Maire Martin ran into a gap off a Michael Morgan pass to reduce the deficit to 12.
But a try from close range to Melbourne lock Dale Finucane with 16 minutes left secured the premiership for Melbourne.