The 40-0 thrashing the Manly Sea Eagles dished out to the Melbourne Storm in the NRL grand final was the biggest margin in the 54 year history of the NSWRL/NRL grand final.
While the Sea Eagles started the game as favourites, they were only just favourites against the reigning premiers and the benchmark team of the last three or four seasons.
So comprehensive was the defeat of the Storm that serious questions will be asked about the team’s preparation and so they should be. The Sea Eagles had as smooth a lead in to the grand final as they could have hoped for. On the other hand the Storm has the most disjointed, disrupted preparation one can recall.
The way the club management and coach handled the suspension of captain, Cameron Smith, undermined the club’s preparations, and almost overnight turned the Storm into the team just about everyone wants to see get beaten – a mantle the Manly Sea Eagles have held for a generation.
Even on grand final days off field issues – allegedly the hatred the Storm players have for a Sea Eagles player over a “domestic” in years past — took centre stage. And the refusal of the Storm CEO, Brian Waldron, and coach, Craig Bellamy, to apologise for an unjustified attack on the integrity of the judiciary diverted attention away from the grand final in rugby league’s centenary year. The game’s hierarchy won’t easily forget or forgive the Storm for their actions which gave the game almost two weeks of unwanted headlines.
The Storm’s coach is denying the off field events had anything to do with the grand final defeat. Nonsense! The Storm went into the grand final with some very mixed form in the semi finals, and towards the end of the premiership rounds, but that cannot possibly justify the biggest defeat in grand final history.
The Manly Sea Eagles topped off a very consistent season with their best performance in years in the grand final. It was as close being faultless in both defence and attack. The score line, and especially keeping the Storm scoreless, proves that.
While not everyone likes Manly — and until recently most fans did not like them at all – it is impossible to dislike the retiring Manly hero, Steve Menzies. The grand final was his 349th (and last) game in the NRL premiership and winning the grand final was a stellar end to the career of a player whose impeccable off field behaviour others ought to at least try and emulate. He will play out his career with Bradford in the UK Super League.
For Manly, and their part owner, businessman Max Delmege, winning a grand final just four or five years after the club went close to financial collapse is a remarkable achievement. The NRL will surely be relieved that the off field nonsense that absolutely swamped the lead up to the grand final might now end.
But don’t imagine it is not the end of the rugby league season — far from it. In three weeks’ time the Rugby League World Cup will be staged, mainly in NSW and Queensland.