Almanac Rugby League – A relentless wave

Despite the absence of my team, and ignoring the Melbourne – Newcastle game, this has been an extremely high quality finals series – the St. George/ Brisbane, St George /Wests Tigers and Wests Tigers/NZ Warriors games were all incredibly exciting but this game – from start to finish – topped the lot.

It was fast, tense and incredibly tough, from minute one to minute 80, the crowd went mad and the better team won. Best of all, the grand final will not now be contested between two teams I could never bring myself to cheer for – and let’s face it, it’s all about me.

Darren Lockyer’s fairytale ended on Friday night and so Melbourne’s did on Saturday, but this was a very different kind of fairytale – this was a fairytale where you hated the fairy, even if you grudgingly admire the fairy’s steel and determination – and that’s really no fairytale at all.

The accepted narrative of Melbourne this year was that the Fab Three (Greg Inglis’ Ringo Starr having left the band) were enough, along with the bunch of no names cobbled together under Craig Bellamy’s uncompromising gaze – Dirty Dozen style –to get them a title – and atone for last year’s salary cap disaster. The fact that the salary cap disaster was completely of their own making would be ignored (especially by Melbourne and their fans) as an inconvenient plot point as they “showed everyone”.

The signs that this may not all go to plan started with the Battle of Brookie and began to flash a little more brightly with their flogging by the Roosters the week after – they had players suspended, players rested, but, really, if you have 40 points put on you by the 12th placed team the week before the semis, you’re in trouble. The grinding win over a very limited Newcastle in week one of the finals did nothing to allay this fear (or, in my case, hope).

The Warriors on the other hand seemed to be building momentum, that most valuable and capricious of qualities. Sure, they got pumped in week 1 but has any team ever looked better in being flogged? Everything Brisbane did that night worked (Matt Gillett’s outrageous dummied flick pass for example) and Manu Vatuvei dropped so many balls that it was hard to think Tim Nielson wasn’t on the coaching staff. The Warriors’ relentless charges in the second half of the Tigers game were awesome to behold and they carried on at AAMI, this time for the whole 80 minutes.

Kelly Slater would have loved to ride the relentless waves of Warriors forwards as Packer, Matulino and Lillyman hurled themselves at the Melbourne line, followed by Tupou and Vatuvei, far more effective forwards than any of Melbourne’s actual forwards. Michael Luck, who should own every one of Ashley Harrison’s Origin jerseys, worked like a dog, Mateo added the class and Maloney was the best player on the ground, by far, with the ever-improving Kevin Locke not far behind. Shaun Johnson underplayed his hand beautifully, despite my constant calls for him to run it – when he finally did, setting up Lewis Brown to win the game, it occurred to me that Ivan Cleary – just maybe – knew more than I did. This was the best team effort of the year.

For Melbourne, they played as well as they were allowed, which is to say, not that well. Of the Fab Three, Slater was fantastic, setting up Beau Champion’s 70 metre try (obviously, that’s not something Beau could do himself) and speeding up the game with every touch. Cronk was busy without actually controlling the game whereas Smith was completely ineffectual, notable only for his gutless elbow to Locke’s head.

With two of those three off their game, it was here – when most needed – that Melbourne’s narrative unravelled. Unsurprisingly in retrospect, the likes of Bryan Norrie, Jaimon Lowe, Adam Woolnough and Dane Neilson won’t win you a final, no matter how many chairs Craig Bellamy kicks, or expletives he screams. Proctor, Manu and Bromwich were tough, but much more than toughness was required to beat the Warriors in this mood.

Surprisingly, most of all to Melbourne, Melbourne didn’t have it.

Brett Oaten can be heard on Fire Up! on FBI Radio in Sydney and streaming online on Friday’s at 9am

Leave a Comment

*