BY NOW, Billy Slater is perhaps used to game-defining moments. On this stage, though? Possibly not.
Slater's effort in denying Bulldogs centre Josh Morris by punching the ball dead after 62 minutes was one of those moments that define him as much as the contest. Over the course of the game, halfback Cooper Cronk came up with more key plays, earning him the Clive Churchill Medal, but the Melbourne fullback's effort was the key play, even if the player maintained he had some good luck.
''In those situations, you just go hard early and you see what happens,'' Slater said.
''He was in front of me, and if he gets a decent bounce, he scores. You just can't give up on those plays. We were lucky enough that the ball popped up, and I was lucky enough to get a hand to it. That's footy, mate.''
While Slater was superb, the Bulldogs' danger man, his opposite, Ben Barba, was kept largely quiet. In fact, Slater's critical play was the one occasion when Barba threatened to blast the contest wide open.
He had found space down the left-hand touchline, and kicked with his right foot. Morris appeared almost certain to score but the ball popped up, allowing Slater the chance to leap above him and punch the ball away like an AFL fullback would to spoil against a forward.
''It's just part of my job,'' Slater said. ''The boys just kept turning up for each other all day in the middle there. It's just part of my job to get back there and try to compete for everything. I don't see it any more important than someone covering Benny Barba, or pushing through on the inside and making a crucial tackle. To hold the Dogs to one try - the try was probably my fault; I was a bit out of position - is a great defensive effort.
''You need to defend well to win premierships. That was the key for us.
''I could find another 16 blokes who came up with remarkable efforts as well. That's just a part of my job, to compete in those contests. I'm lucky enough that the ball popped up and I got a fist to it.''
The Storm defended superbly in the second half. While they could not score themselves, the Bulldogs were kept scoreless as well.
''I honestly didn't believe that we could defend as well as we did in the second half,'' Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy said.
Perhaps it was the timing that made Slater's effort so notable - not just the timing he showed in leaping to punch the ball, but in terms of the contest. The Storm were 14-4 in front at the time. A converted try would have brought the Bulldogs back to within four points, and striking distance, and given them the confidence that until then had been lacking.
''It was pretty crucial,'' Bellamy said. ''If he scores, it's a four-point game, and anything could have happened.
''But that's what you expect those players to do. They just keep coming up with the big plays. That might be why they call them the Big Three.''