This shot shows the real reason the Melbourne Storm are NRL premiers

ROY MASTERS
Last updated 01:40 08/10/2017
JASON McCAWLEY/GETTY IMAGES

Eight Storm players pursue Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt during the NRL grand final.

CAMERON SPENCER/GETTY IMAGES
The Storm's "big three" era is over with the departure of halfback Cooper Cronk, left.
MARK METCALFE/GETTY IMAGES
Fullback Billy Slater has committed to the Storm for what will likely be his last season in 2018.

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This is the shot that shows the Storm were never going to lose the 2017 NRL grand final.

Eight Storm players are seen chasing a single Cowboy, Kyle Feldt, with hardly another North Queensland player in sight.

The score was 18-0 and Feldt had set off on a long run after fielding a Cooper Cronk kick, a poor one by the Storm half's stellar standards. Coach Craig Bellamy would have preferred Cronk take the field goal, forcing the Cowboys into a position where they had to score four times.

But the Melbourne chase reflected the sheer determination of the Storm players and perhaps the tiredness of their opposition after a gruelling three successive trips to Sydney during the playoffs.

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In a near-perfect Storm performance, the only major error was conceding a try early in the second half, after a succession of penalties.

Captain Cameron Smith raced out of the line, only to create a gap for Cowboys five-eighth Te Maire Martin to slice through to make it 18-6.

Some in the Melbourne camp speculate that Smith's rare error cost him the Clive Churchill Medal. However, it's more likely the selectors were always seeking to reward fullback Billy Slater for his perfect positional play under the high ball, his try, try assist and his comeback, at age 34, from two shoulder reconstructions.

Still, Smith's overall defence of the middle and accurate goal-kicking meant two points were added to every try, keeping the Storm out of reach.

Departing Storm second-rower Tohu Harris, bound for the Warriors, was another player the Storm coaching staff rated highly in Clive Churchill Medal voting.

The general consensus in Melbourne is that Bellamy is coaching at his best after more than a decade at the club. He has one year remaining on his contract and his staff will encourage him to sign on for longer.

Assistant Adam O'Brien has been identified as his successor and will accompany Bellamy and the Storm's director of football, Frank Ponissi, on their annual October study trip to the US. The trio will visit the San Antonio Spurs and one of America's most storied college football teams, Alabama's Crimson Tide.

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It is highly unlikely Bellamy would leave Melbourne while Smith is still playing, and the current form of the Storm captain should take him into 2019.

The Gold Coast Titans would obviously want a coach of Bellamy's standing to sign on immediately, but that would require him breaking a contract, which he would find unconscionable.

Nor would he find it comfortable signing for 2019 at another club while still at the Storm, irrespective of all the unrealistic promises that the news would never leak.

The current administration of the Titans obviously wants to secure a recognised coach to support their case to the NRL to continue as licensees.

The NRL will make a decision by the end of October to either award the licence to the current leadership or offer it to a syndicate backed by the North Sydney Bears.

The delay Manly are experiencing in trying to secure the signature of coach Trent Barrett would suggest he is either unhappy at Brookvale, or being considered for the Titans' job, or both.

But so too is former Souths coach Michael Maguire, who is favoured for the Gold Coast position.

With three coaches sacked in the 2017 season and the Titans maneuvering for a big name, it is now writ very large that coaches' contracts mean nothing in the NRL.

The uncertainty over the future of Cronk will continue. Some in Melbourne suspect a club, such as the Roosters, will try and strike a deal where he signs on as a player-assistant coach, with his fee paid jointly from the salary cap and the football department budget.

Others believe he will retire and become a Fox Sports analyst. His potted summary to this ex-coach of the 2017 finals was the best I've heard.

While everyone was focussed on the brave, defiant form of the Cowboys, most ignored they had won only one of their past six home-and-away games to end the season.

Overlooked was the form of the Cowboys' three opponents in the semi-finals, the Sharks, Eels and Roosters.

The Roosters, lacking leadership and commitment, probably played at about 60 per cent of their capability, meaning too many people were hypnotised by the Cowboys' fairytale.

Provided the Storm matched the Cowboys for completions and defended with the determination shown in the photo, they were always going to win.

But the Cowboys loom as the biggest challengers to the Storm in 2018.

With Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott returning, together with the recruitment of Storm prop Jordan McLean, the Cowboys won't limp into the semis.

It was McLean's powerful run and quick play-the-ball that set up Dale Finucane's try, guaranteeing the Storm's premiership.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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