Canterbury weren't allowed into the contest. The Storm played the perfect finals series and suffocated the Bulldogs the way they did South Sydney and Manly. It wasn't as though the Bulldogs were playing badly, they just weren't given the opportunity to play well. The Storm dropped anchor inside the attacking zone and completed 90 per cent of their sets. The Bulldogs had just 34 per cent of the ball in the opening 40 minutes and did far too much defence in the early exchanges to threaten in attack late in the contest.
The three wise men rose to the fore. When the two teams fought tooth and nail – literally – following Sam Perrett's try, proceedings could have gone either way. The Bulldogs, having dug deep to withstand a barrage of Storm assaults, had the opportunity to use it as a springboard. But they were the ones left rattled just before half-time and, led by the big three – Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith – Melbourne's experienced stars struck the game's crucial blows within the space of seven minutes. Slater's try, then Cronk's sharp kick to Justin O'Neill, meant Canterbury were always going to be chasing their tail. Smith's wonky night with the boot was all that kept the Bulldogs in it.
They lifted the lid on Canterbury's weak left edge. With Cronk attacking predominantly on the right side, you would have thought Melbourne would send traffic down the edge of Josh Morris and Kris Keating. Instead they targeted rookies Josh Jackson and Josh Reynolds – with plenty of success. Reynolds and Jackson each missed four tackles in the first half alone.
Ben Barba was largely held at bay. All season the brilliant Ben Barba had terrorised opposition defences but Canterbury's primary attacking weapon was, apart from a couple examples, marginalised with unshakable efficiency. The Storm were clearly told they could not sit back and admire the expansive, short-passing game that drove the Bulldogs to the minor premiership. Instead, they raced up in unison throughout the match to dramatically reduce their rivals' space. Barba did his best to get away, and sped clear midway through the second half, but almost everything thrown at the Storm was ruthlessly repelled. Will Chambers in particular was outstanding.
Canterbury lacked a genuine playmaker. The Bulldogs forwards have done an amazing job this season providing their side with extra ball-playing options, but when the Melbourne defence shut down their options, there was no one to spark any creativity in attack. There's an old adage that suggests you can't win a premiership without a star halfback and, while many believed Canterbury would defy the theory, Cooper Cronk added merit to the claim.