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From The Couch: Grand Final

The Perfect Storm: Melbourne played a near-perfect game in the 2012 Grand Final.
From The Couch: Grand Final
by NRL

The Perfect Storm: Melbourne played a near-perfect game in the 2012 Grand Final. It was the most complete performance in the big game in many, many years. The Storm took the ascendancy early and never gave it up. It was a heartbreaking day for your author but I will take nothing away from Craig Bellamy and his team, who played as well as you could possibly ask on the big stage. The better team won and the scoreboard, at the end, didn't reflect the Storm's dominance.

Craig Bellamy is the man who deserves the majority of the credit. Bellamy not only pulled the team back from the disaster of 2010 with a roster of young talent, misfits and cast-offs but he made the necessary adjustments to his roster over the last offseason and altered his preparation to get the Storm ready for September. It worked. And on the day, the Storm did not miss a beat tactically, playing an intense up-and-in defence and a field position game.

Bellamy knew experience and conservative football would win it. And it did. Cooper Cronk could not have kicked any better. Cameron Smith made the right moves out of dummy half. The unheralded Storm props did not stop punching holes around the ruck.

Canterbury's brilliance was being nullified. Ben Barba had let the occasion get to him and the halves had no field position or room. They panicked a touch.

The Storm, they just waited and waited and waited and landed the killer blow just before the break.

A scoreless second half summed up the game. Melbourne knew what they had to do to win it and when in a winnable position, defended it like a Rorke's Drift.

It was not the most entertaining Grand Final. But the best team on the day won it because they played to their strengths: experience, kicking, relentless defence.

The Melbourne Storm, 2012 premiers, deserve every accolade they get for their fourth title. They are a brilliant football team, one gifted with great skill but an even more impressive attitude.

And I can spend the offseason lamenting an opportunity taken ... oh, the sadness, the grief.

Nibble, Nibble: James Graham etched himself into the annals of rugby league infamy by taking a chomp out of Billy Slater's ear in the first half of the 2012 decider. It was an unsavoury incident that put Graham in the same category as Frank 'Bumper' Farrell and Tommy Raudonikis with the chomping and perhaps Darcy Lawler, George Bishop, Terry Lamb and Jamie Ainscough in Grand Finals. It is tough to call a bite an accident. Graham, clearly frustrated and looking to shake things up, pulled a very ugly move. He was lucky to stay on the field. He will get his weeks. And the image of the Bulldogs has taken a severe battering since.

The Prime Minister Snubs Rugby League ... Again: Once again, the Prime Minister has given rugby league the bird by refusing to attend the Grand Final. She also missed the Grand Final breakfast (she was admittedly in New York) and snubbed the Dally M Awards. Even Kevin Rudd made an appearance at the league. Gillard claims to be a Melbourne Storm fan yet while she attended the AFL decider in Melbourne, she was nowhere to be seen at ANZ on Sunday. Liberal NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell was there. Tony Abbott was at the Grand Final breakfast. The ALP has turned its back on rugby league. They certainly treat the code a lot worse than the Liberal mob.

Grand Final Player Ratings:

Melbourne

1. Billy Slater (7): Made a silly error and was lucky to not give away an eight-point try but was strong on the kick return and always lurking around.
2. Sisa Waqa (7): Made some excellent defensive reads. Is a vastly improved player who can develop into a very nice type.
3. Dane Nielsen (7.5): Changed the nature of the game with his strong and heavy-handed defence, taking Ben Barba out of the match. Good way to go out.
4.Will Chambers (7.5): See Nielsen, Dane. Played up and in and didn't miss a beat. Was critical to the Storm's win.
5. Justin O'Neill (6): Scored a critical first-half try but made a few mistakes and was a weak link that Canterbury should have exploited more.
6. Gareth Widdop (7): Personified the term solid. Gave Cronk some space and was faultless in defence.
7. Cooper Cronk (8.5): Probably the best player on the paddock and a well deserving Clive Churchill Medal winner. Kicked superbly.
13. Todd Lowrie (7): Got his hands dirty with plenty of tough defensive work and made some nice metres as well.
12. Ryan Hoffman (8): May be one of the best fringe runners in the game. He was excellent in the first half, scoring the first try of the game.
11. Kevin Proctor (5): A surprise starter who contributed very little for the Storm.
10. Bryan Norrie (8.5): Almost created the greatest boilover in history with the last try/Churchill double. Try disallowed, missed the medal, but a huge game.
9. Cameron Smith (7.5): His goalkicking was horrendous but did create issues for the Bulldogs out of dummy-half and won the love of the referees.
8. Jesse Bromwich (7.5): Kept the Storm playing with their foot on the pedal with his carrying top notch.

14. Sika Manu (4.5): Would have gone unnoticed if not for him possessing the most absurd calves on the face of the earth.
15. Ryan Hinchcliffe (7): He is exactly the kind of player Canterbury were missing off their bench.
16. Jaiman Lowe (3.5): Leaves rugby league as a premiership winner but really didn't do a lot.
17. Richie Fa'aoso (3): Will still be surprised to have come away with a title after a mid-season move from the Newcastle local comp.

Total: 112

Canterbury
1. Ben Barba (6): Tried hard but an ordinary showing from the Dally M Medal winner. Certainly looked very shaky early on and seemed rushed all night.
2. Sam Perrett (7): As reliable as always, Perrett showed all his natural skill to score Canterbury's only try. Rucked the ball out with vigour. Rarely out of place.
3. Josh Morris (7): Was clearly Canterbury's most dangerous but a bad bounce and some unlucky calls went against him. Made a big blue just before halftime.
4. Krisnan Inu (7): Arguably the Bulldogs' best player, laying Cooper Cronk out early and setting up the only try with a deft kick. Was surprisingly consistent.
5. Jonathan Wright (2): There isn't a Canterbury fan in the world who won't be happy to see the back of him. Turned in an absolute stinker. Just horrendous.
6. Josh Reynolds (7.5): Struggled a touch defensively but like the terrier he is, kept going on sheer will. There were better players but none tried harder.
7. Kris Keating (5): Was the worst half in the game on paper and so it came to pass. Just lacked that touch. His kicking game was well off for most of the night.
13. Greg Eastwood (7): Tackled his ample guts out with a workmanlike effort. Didn't get much opportunity with the ball.
12. Josh Jackson (6.5): Missed some tackles but this kid is Brad Clyde reincarnate, a worker who has won Des Hasler's trust in his rookie year.
11. Frank Pritchard (5): Came into the game with plenty of bluster but failed to stand up when required. When the vinegar was on, he went to water.
10. Sam Kasiano (5): The game wasn't suited to his style but he didn't do enough to make an impact, particularly coming off his own line.
9. Michael Ennis (7): Almost faultless defensively and must have done well to keep Graham on the paddock but couldn't win the Dogs momentum or the rub.
8. Aiden Tolman (7): Tried hard with the ball but well contained. Never missed a beat in defence. Not his best game but certainly wasn't the worst.

14. James Graham (8): Played with plenty of hunger. Billy Slater would suggest maybe a little too much. Was Canterbury's strongest in a sixth-straight GF loss.
15. Dale Finucane (3.5): Got no time and made zero impact and was perhaps a luxury Canterbury could have done without as a creative benchman was needed.
16. Corey Payne (4.5): Created a few issues in his 12 minutes on the paddock but never had the time.
17. David Stagg (6): Hasler is a great coach but he does not know how to use Stagg. Did all the small things well in a very Stagg-like game ... for 39 minutes.

Total: 101

Joey the Immortal: It was a proud day for rugby league when Andrew Johns was named rugby league's eighth Immortal. It was the right decision. The finest rugby league player I have ever seen, one who fundamentally changed the way the game was played and who helped send the code to record levels of popularity, was the most deserving candidate. When Johns played, time stood still and anything was possible.

On his retirement, I wrote this:

"The kid with all the skills and the heart of a jaded lioness, forever enthusiastic and forever brilliant, has strapped on a pair of boots for the last time and sooner or later, we are all going to have to deal with it in some manner, no matter how perverted.

"There will be plenty written about the man they called Joey in the coming days and weeks and months. It will be reflective and praise worthy and rose tinted and full of hyperbole. Words will be written about being an all time great, perhaps the greatest, an Immortal of the fine game of rugby league. Terms like loyal and brilliant and revolutionary and courageous and hero will be littered throughout screeds that adorn his name. And all these words and all that praise will be completely justified.

"There is plenty that Andrew Johns has done right on a football field over his 14-year first grade career. Plenty that he has done well above right. The images of him blinding a defence, ball held out to provide options, with a jinking run still remain bright and focused. He could set his backline alight with a pass of sublime beauty and he could inspire his defence with a bone rattling hit and his unparalleled workrate for a man his size. He had the brilliance to make even his most mediocre teammates look good and could penetrate the most stonewall and brutal of defences. His enthusiasm was infectious, as was his competitive drive and will to win. He changed the way rugby league is played, rewriting the role of the halfback and proving the effectiveness of innovative and constructive kicking. He was as gifted at the placekick as Halligan and he could lead from the front like Ghengis Khan. He was a consummate professional of the highest order, a footballer for anytime, an innovator. And in the end, that is the greatest compliment that can be paid to Andrew Johns. He was a professional. And he was the best."

I back away from none of those remarks. Those arguing against Johns' inclusion based on his recreational drug use don't deserve to be heard. And those Queenslanders bleating about Mal Meninga missing out are delusional if they believe Mal Meninga was more deserving of the gong. Meninga achieved so much but he did not fundamentally change the way the game is played like Johns.

Joey is an Immortal. And as a game, we should all salute a player who gave us all so much.

Crisis at the Wests Tigers: Tim Sheens has left the Wests Tigers with about as much going for it as the US left Vietnam in the seventies. It is a burning mess. The players - those that are left - are in open rebellion with the ex-coach and the front office. The list has been decimated. The culture shot. The bank drained. It is a total disaster that could see this year's pre-season premiership favourite enter next year well in contention for the wooden spoon.

The coach situation could not have been handled worse. The Tigers front office showed no bottle, delaying the inevitable, all to save a few bucks. Even at the death, they refused to fire him, offering him another role at the club. It was embarrassing and a clearly untenable position for the club and Sheens. The Tigers needed to make a clean break - for the club and for Sheens' legacy - yet it has been protracted and ugly. Worse, they have no clear candidate in mind, only the fact they have no money to spend. The supposed red-hot favourite, Matt Parish, would rather assist Ricky Stuart at the wooden spooners than stay in the race for the Tigers. An endorsement from Alan Jones certainly didn't help.

While Parish will be at Parramatta, it seems the Tigers have stolen the Eels' recruitment handbook with their decisions over the last two years. Out are veteran contributors Bryce Gibbs and Chris Heighington, tackle break machine Andrew Fifita and highly promotable Beau Ryan, who played his best year and was promised a deal that never eventuated. In are high-priced flop Adam Blair and over-the-top Braith Anasta, along with overpaid Tigers Lote Tuqiri and Tim Moltzen.

Yikes, maybe Carl Webb and Paul Whatuira weren't that bad!

With the Tigers having little money and little room to move and the club alienating one half of the venture by doing everything they can to pulverise Wests, the future is bleak. And it has all been brought about by their own silliness. The Tigers window is closed. Let the rebuild begin.

2012 Club Award Winners (So Far): The club award winners thus far ...

Canterbury: Ben Barba (Dr George Peponis Medal)
Cronulla: Jeremy Smith (Monty Porter Medal)
Parramatta: Nathan Hindmarsh (Ken Thornett Medal)
Penrith: Kevin Kingston (Merv Cartwright Medal)
Sydney Roosters: Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (Jack Gibson Medal)
Warriors: Ben Matulino
Wests Tigers: Aaron Woods
Referees: Ben Cummins

Not Very Fun Fact : James Graham has now lost six Grand Finals in a row.

Not Very Fun Fact : Krisnan Inu joins Phil Sigsworth as the only players to lose Grand Finals at three separate clubs.

Rumour Mill: The New Zealand Warriors are expected to name Matthew Elliott and David Kidwell as the next coaches of the club. The Warriors could probably not have botched this up more. They are still in the play for Craig Bellamy but he is still unlikely to leave the Storm. Quade Cooper is talking up a move to the Roosters but won't come - this is just a leverage play. David Stagg shapes as being at Parramatta next season. It would be a smart move by the Eels. Robbie Farah won't be leaving the Wests Tigers. The Tigers' next coach is very much up in the air but they will go for an untried mentor - Mick Potter is the favourite.

Betting Market of the Week: Canterbury's next move after a calamitous week:

- Send Frank Pritchard on an unlimited tour of KFC: $4.00
- Sign up James Graham as a spokeman for the RSPCA: $13
- Get Sam Kasiano to give a long and literate speech on the feminist movement: $15
- Re-sign David Stagg: $41

What I Like About ... Cooper Cronk: Cooper Cronk may part of Melbourne's 'Big Three' but he does not receive the same accolades that Cameron Smith and Billy Slater receive. He deserves them. For the second straight Storm decider, he was the most effective player on the field. Halfbacks rarely perform at such a consistently high level. He does not have bad games. Cooper Cronk is legitimately one of the best players in the premiership.

Moniker XIII of the Week: To honour Ryan Hoffman, who scored the first try in the 2012 decider, we have the best Ryans.

The Ryans
1. Ryan Shortland (6 games for Melbourne/New Zealand)
2. Ryan Walker (3 games for Penrith)
3. Ryan Cross (143 games for Sydney Roosters)
4. Ryan Girdler (227 games for Illawarra/Penrith)
5. Ryan Morgan (33 games for Parramatta)
6. Ryan Stig (13 games for Newcastle)
7. Ryan McGoldrick (35 games for Cronulla)
13. Ryan Simpkins (17 games for Penrith)
12. Ryan Tandy (36 games for Dragons/Souths/Tigers/Melbourne/Canterbury)
11. Ryan Hoffman (197 games for Melbourne)
10. Ryan O'Hara (125 games for Canberra/Wests Tigers)
9. Ryan Hinchcliffe (122 games for Canberra/Melbourne)
8. Ryan James (21 games for Gold Coast)

The Coaching Crosshairs: Craig Bellamy has just won a premiership with Melbourne ... and it could be the worst thing for the Storm. Bellamy is off contract next year and the general feeling has been that he won't leave. But he has publicly said his next contract will be his last and that he wants a payday. The Warriors are throwing the world at him. The Dragons may well do something similar. Craig Bellamy should remain in Melbourne - and that is the favoured option at the moment - but he could go too. Clubs realise the value of coaches these days - and Bellamy will reap the reward, whether in Melbourne, Auckland or Wollongong.

Games of the Year:
Winner: R20: Canterbury 20 v Manly 12 at Brookvale Oval

First Runner-Up: R9: South Sydney 34 v Cronulla 28 at ANZ Stadium
Second Runner-Up: R24: Canterbury 23 v Wests Tigers 22 at ANZ Stadium
Third Runner-Up: R19: South Sydney 24 v Sydney Roosters 22 at SFS

Correspondence Corner: Anonymous, the term impostors was used because that wasn't the Manly side that had played very well all year and have done tremendously well in recent times. I'm sorry you read it that way. I have the utmost respect for most of the Manly club.

Witty Reference, I'd prefer to see the season reduced, the finals pared back to a top five and the addition of a knockout cup during Origin. I doubt any of it will happen though.

G_Dog, the Bulldogs were certainly never given much leeway regarding penalties. I thought the Storm defended very well in the decider but they were given an eternity to slow down the play-the-ball.

Strettell, I think the nexus between Origin football and Australian selection must be kept. Having said that, being able to play Origin shouldn't preclude players from representing minor nations. I think the international federation must also do more to help out the game. I agree with your first element but I don't think you can play Origin and then play for New Zealand. I know it has been done - it shouldn't have.

Anonymous, the challenge system works very well in the NFL and is worth pursuing in the NRL.

George, Des didn't break his contract - he was fired by Manly. Nick is spot on.

Jack Muir, Greg Eastwood has been capable of big games but consistency has been his issue. Mal Meninga does not to do more for the interests of the game as a whole and not just Queensland.

Jeff McGinn, frame by frame breakdowns just don't give a true reflection of what happened to the untried eye. Only people properly trained in the ways of video should be given such footage.

Davey G, coaching is the most important element of success in rugby league. Bellamy and Hasler proved it again. Look for assistants from their trees to make an impact in future years.

Beard Watch: The power of Melbourne centre Dane Nielsen's beard proved superior to that of anything Canterbury could offer.

Watch It: With all the yap this week being about James Graham's chomp on Billy Slater's ear, we this week go back to two of the most famous biters in rugby league history: Frank 'Bumper' Farrell and Tommy 'The Phantom Biter' Raudonikis. Farrell, of course, allegedly bit off Bill McRitchie's ear in the 1940s while the Newtown enforcer while Tommy was accused (and admitted to) chewing on Graeme Wynn. Watch a song dedicated to Bumper here and Tommy's own musical stylings here.

The Final Couch: Thanks to everybody who has supported From The Couch in 2012. This week's Couch will be the last until I return from a break in the United States, where I will attempt to track down Greg Smith and unearth the next Manfred Moore. Check out the annual top 50 players later in the week, enjoy the offseason and check back in December for a mid-summer edition.

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