Storm 14 Bulldogs 4
It won't go down as the greatest grand final, and certainly won't be considered the greatest night for rugby league, given the fallout ahead of us. But Melbourne's second official premiership is something worthy of greatness.
Both teams have rebuilt remarkably but the Storm's effort to fight back from their catastrophe of 2010 is something to celebrate. And they no doubt will, knowing no one will take this one away from them.
2012 NRL Grand Final
All the action from the 2012 NRL Grand Final between the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs and the Melbourne Storm at ANZ Stadium, Homebush. Photos by Brendan Esposito, Quentin Jones, Dave Tease and Chris Lane. Selected Images available from www.fairfaxsyndication.com. Follow us at http://twitter.com/photosSMH. Photo: Brendan Esposito
The Storm did a remarkable job keeping Bulldogs fullback Ben Barba quiet, while their own No.1, Billy Slater, had a night to savour. He has been through all the ups and downs of Melbourne's remarkable recovery, and experienced similar emotions last night as he angrily accused Englishman James Graham of biting his ear before coming up with the plays that counted.
A first-half try, not long after the blood was wiped from his ear, and a second-half save were critical moments. The latter was the moment of the match - Barba looked like he was about to finally explode into the contest when he found space down the left sideline and kicked in-field for centre Josh Morris. But as the ball bounced high, Slater leapt to meet it, punching the ball dead.
''No ordinary journey'', read the banner that greeted the Melbourne players before kick-off. Many know the feeling of losing a premiership, but few know what it's like to have two taken away.
This was no normal match. The Storm were facing a team not only hungry for a premiership but, in the case of Graham, just hungry. The Storm even cast aside the biting allegation to prevail.
Both teams had rebuilt under different circumstances. The Bulldogs' turnaround in fortunes under Des Hasler is still a remarkable one, even if they were beaten by a Melbourne team battling back from the loss of premierships and personnel.
Melbourne were ruthless, turning the Bulldogs' strengths into weaknesses. Barba was placed under enormous pressure and could not hide his frustrations or his body when the Storm went looking for him.
As the Bulldogs waited to kick off, the Storm gathered in a circle on the southern 40-metre line. They had waited more than two years for this moment, following the stripping of two premierships in 2010, so what was a few more seconds?
They didn't have to wait too long to put their stamp on the contest. After just seven minutes, Gareth Widdop's short ball to Ryan Hoffman put the second-rower exactly where he wanted him: one-on-one with five-eighth Josh Reynolds. Hoffman had too much strength.
What followed was a remarkable period of dominance by Melbourne. Barba showed nerves for the first time this season, as the Storm found themselves camped down their opponents' end. When they failed to make it count, Cameron Smith even missing a rather simple shot at penalty goal after 17 minutes, the Bulldogs sensed the tide was turning.
And it did for a while. Centre Krisnan Inu's kick for Sam Perrett was grounded superbly by the winger, which should have been the turning point had it not been the boiling point. Slater clattered into Perrett, and was dragged away by the neck by David Stagg. A sideline melee followed, at the end of which came the unsavoury allegation of biting.
If the Storm got angry, they kept it hidden and eventually made all their pressure count; better late than never. Cronk set up two tries in the final eight minutes of the half to steal the advantage, first holding the ball up well before putting Slater over, and then kicking for his winger Justin O'Neill. Once bitten, twice try.
The Dogs responded in the second half, but struggled to take advantage, even when Smith failed to kick a 54th-minute penalty. When Slater leapt above Morris to punch the ball dead, it was a punch that, ultimately, knocked the Bulldogs to the canvas.
MELBOURNE 14 (R Hoffman J O’Neill B Slater tries C Smith goal) bt BULLDOGS 4 (S Perrett try) at ANZ Stadium. Referee: Tony Archer, Ben Cummins. Crowd: 82,976.