They walk alone, but Melbourne don't fear the dark
There's no need to look back … Todd Lowrie and Cooper Cronk yesterday. Photo: Getty Images
The world imagines them staring into the now empty spaces in the trophy cabinet, eyes bulging with undiluted rage. The superstar survivors of those tainted seasons, and their maniacally driven coach, burn with righteous indignation. Bitterly, they speak of the day they will replace the missing silverware and thumb their noses at their accusers.
As Melbourne gathered to provide the media with a grand final week's worth of sound bites, you searched for a hint of the dark emotions we imagine drive this isolated, sometimes insular club. The gnawing pain that has motivated the despised outsiders as they moved to within 80 minutes of vindication and sweet vengeance.
You hoped to expose the tone set by Craig Bellamy on Friday night - ''It's not about the past, it's about 2012'' - as a made-for-media myth intended to disguise the club's true feelings. The party line to be parroted by players when the subject of those missing trophies was raised.
What do you find? No rancour, no bitterness, no regret. Not in the routinely bland dismissal of questions about the salary cap years when the cameras are rolling. Not even in a more intimate setting, when you virtually insist that - surely! - revenge must be on the Storm's dance card.
After all, you suggest to captain Cameron Smith, there would be no shame in that. To wish to wave a ''legitimate'' grand final trophy in the faces of those who took away the others would only be human nature.
Smith does not pretend the proposition is absurd or insulting. He simply does not agree.
''It hasn't been a motivation for me at all,'' he says. ''It hasn't been a driving force for me to go out and play well, or for this team to do well or play in another grand final. We've said all along, it's hard to use it as motivation because, after that season , we were a totally different team. We didn't do it last year, we didn't do it this year. We didn't sit down and say, 'Hey boys, let's go and get in a grand final because of what happened in 2010.' ''
Smith does not deny disappointment can provide inspiration. The memory of last year's upset loss to the Warriors in the preliminary final contributed to the Storm's fast start this season - although the game was never mentioned by Bellamy.
So, why would those who played in the 2007 and 2009 premiership teams, or who endured that 2010 season in pointless purgatory, not feel inspired? Halfback Cooper Cronk, in his enigmatic way, provides a clue.
''Don't get me wrong, there is a sense of emotion, it's a grand final,'' he says. ''Emotion is a powerful thing, but too much of it can be dangerous. I know running out on Sunday night there is going to be a hell of a lot of emotion. I don't need any more than there already is.''
Which does not mean lingering rage has been suppressed. Rather, Cronk would have you believe, grieving over the club's wounds long ago reached the final stage. Acceptance.
''I can only speak on my behalf, it may be different for other people,'' Cronk says. ''But for me, it is what it is. We did win some, we did lose some. That's in the bookcase for me. It's been three years since we've been there. 2012 is about respecting this year and playing for what this team deserves to achieve this year … that's my inspiration, to finish the year off well and hopefully respect what these boys have done during the year.''
Forward Ryan Hoffman, who in 2010 left a club that had been ripped apart and returned to find it fully restored, puts it in more frank terms. ''This is a grand final,'' he says. ''If you need anything more than that [as motivation], there's something wrong with you.''
The lack of even a veiled reference to the past is disappointing. Not because you wish to drag up the rights and wrongs of the salary cap issue. But because the thought of the Storm's stars setting out on a vengeful conquest would be a compelling grand final storyline. A dark edge to balance the shining light superstar fullbacks Billy Slater and Ben Barba will cast.
Yet, when Cronk says ''I respect the past, I'm not driven by it'', you take him at his word. At the same time, you wait to see what happens on Sunday. If the history has no place in the Storm's preparation, you suspect deeply-felt emotions will be released in they win.
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