Storm's 'big three' get title to keep

Last updated 05:00 01/10/2012
Melbourne Storm
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The 2012 NRL Premiers, the Melbourne Storm.
Billy Slater, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk
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THE BIG THREE: Melbourne's key playmakers Billy Slater, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk celebrate during the Storm's victory lap of ANZ Stadium.

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It wasn't retribution for titles taken away from them but Melbourne's 'big three' finally have an NRL premiership to keep after a 14-4 win over Canterbury that helped ease some of the pain of grand finals past.

Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater - the most dominant triumvirate the game may have ever seen - can again be called premiership winners, the 2007 and '09 titles that were stripped from them not so much long forgotten as consigned to history.

Led by Cronk's Clive Churchill medal-winning performance, the trio were sensational before 82,976 predominantly Bulldogs fans at ANZ Stadium on Sunday night as they denied Des Hasler the opportunity to become the first man to coach different sides to back-to-back titles.

But for Smith, this was not a win to make up for the past, it was reward for their ability to move on.

"We've been asked this question for three years - is it about making up for what happened?" Smith said.

"It's not.

"Sure we were all down about what happened a few years ago - it was a tough period, don't get me wrong - but I think you've got to look at the way we went about ourselves in 2011 and 2012.

"You could see that we didn't look back - we were looking forward."

Along with Ryan Hoffman, the trio are the only remnants of both removed titles, as well as the rubble the club was left in after the 2010 discovery of the Storm's past salary cap sins.

Now they continue to form the cornerstone of the club - coach Craig Bellamy left in little doubt as to their importance when asked to comment on Slater's crucial role in denying Josh Morris a second-half try.

"If he scores there she's a four-point game and anything could have happened," Bellamy said.

"But that's what you expect those players to do, they keep coming up with the big plays.

"That might be why they call them the big three."

It was one of several big plays involving the big three.

Like when Smith held opposite Michael Ennis up over the line with his side holding the 14-4 halftime lead they would eventually take all the way to the final siren.

Or Cronk's two try assists - the first for Slater on 32 minutes with a deft pass and the second a back-breaker for the Bulldogs as he kicked for Justin O'Neill right on halftime.

"The try right on halftime was a tough was to have scored against us ... Melbourne are very hard to run down," Bulldogs coach Hasler said.

"They're too good a side, too clinical, too polished."

Hasler was far less talkative when it came to the deeds of his English front rower James Graham, who had a mark put on his impressive debut NRL campaign when Billy Slater accused him of biting his ear.

It came after a stoush which erupted after the Bulldogs took exception to Slater's late challenge as Sam Perrett scored his side's only points of the game midway through the first half - referee Tony Archer noting the blood on Slater's ear as evidence in putting the incident on report.

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The Storm recovered better from the incident to score two more tries before the break.

Spurred on by some feverish support, the Bulldogs pushed the Storm in the second half, but the Storm resistance stood firm.

"I honestly didn't believe we could defend as well as we did the second half - they were outstanding," Bellamy said.

"These guys are the ones that have got us to where we are, they're the ones that have believed in the club and have worked so hard to get us back to where we are tonight.

"I couldn't be more proud of a footy team than I am at the moment."


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