Storming toward the ultimate sporting vindication
Australian sport is on the verge of an identity crisis. If results go a certain way this weekend then everything will be back to front, with Melbourne seizing the NRL title and Sydney winning the AFL.
Melburnians in particular have a magnificent chance to stick it to the rest of us on Sunday. The Storm are into their fifth NRL grand final of the century, and this time they got there fair and square.
That is, if having the freakish talents of Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith together in one team is your idea of fair.
In the spirit of the Emmys, or Grammys, or whatever nauseating, trumped up award-fest is on next, you really have to (grudgingly) admire these three superstars of sporting entertainment and their formidable supporting cast.
Two years ago, when the Storm were hung, drawn and quartered in public for rorting the league’s salary cap, some pundits questioned whether the club could survive. David Gallop’s righteous anger emptied the team’s trophy cabinet and left its reputation in ruins.
A lesser club may have folded. Not Melbourne. They’re made of stroppy stuff down south.
When coach Craig Bellamy and his players strode out to face the cameras, and the music, in the wake of the scandal, their determination to rise again was obvious. Never has there been such a defiant display of jutted jaws and furrowed brows.
Victory on Sunday would be the ultimate vindication for this team. It would also incite a considerable dose of insufferable Melburnian smugness. The Storm will have redefined themselves as worthy champions.
Ironically, Melbourne’s opposition in the grand final is the only other club to have been caught in a major salary cap breach.
The Bulldogs were runaway premiership favourites in 2002 before they were stripped of 37 competition points and relegated to last place. Two years later, they won the title.
Sound eerily familiar? Melbourne are on the cusp of making the same triumphant comeback, in exactly the same amount of time. The Dogs’ mission on Sunday is to stop their own history from repeating.
Canterbury did finish on top of the ladder this season, so they enter the decider as deserved favourites. No one doubts the difficulty of Melbourne’s task.
But these Storm players have been to grand finals before, and they have one heck of a point to prove. That combination of experience and determination may be too much for the Bulldogs to handle.
Melbourne as a city still has many crimes to answer for, but the footy club has paid for its sins. If the Storm do win on Sunday, it will be a triumph that nobody can take away.
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