The Brisbane Broncos kept their impressive grand final record intact last night when they defeated the favourites, the Melbourne Storm, by 15 to 8 in the 2006 NRL Grand Final.

In six grand final appearances since the Broncos entered the competition in 1988, the Brisbane side has never been beaten – the first in 1992, and the most recent before last night in 2000.

But Wayne Bennett, who has coached the Broncos for an unbroken – and record – 19 seasons, this is the victory he will appreciate most of all. It gives him the record in the NSWRL/NRL for premiership wins as a coach, and it comes at the end of a controversial season for the premier coach.

At the start of the season he shook the foundations of the Broncos by axing three of his coaching staff. All were Broncos heroes, if not legends: Kevin Walters, Gary Belcher and Glenn Lazarus. And then there was the story – never denied – about Bennett switching to the Sydney Roosters next year.

But those controversies will count for zilch now the Broncos have come from third place – and a thumping loss to the St George Dragons in the first round of the finals series – to win the premiership.

It is impossible not to feel sympathy for the Storm. They have been the pacesetters for the whole season, easily winning the minor premiership, but the grand final has become something of a graveyard for the minor premiers. Just one minor premier has won the grand final since the Broncos last won it in 2000.

The Storm probably got the worse of a few bad calls by the referee, but that was not the difference. They were beaten by a better team; and a better defensive team in particular.

This year the NRL got the pre-match entertainment right. The highlight was little Sophie Delezio arriving centre field on the Care Flight chopper hand in hand with the Sea Eagles’ Michael Monaghan, the NRL community service player of the year and who works with the Delezio family charity, the Day of Difference Foundation. While the game has players of the calibre of Michael Monaghan in its ranks it will always be able to hold its head high.

Peter Fray

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