Round 24, 2007
Melbourne Storm 38 def Bulldogs 6
Playing at home in front of a healthy crowd, the nicely building Bulldogs were expected to push the Storm all the way in what shaped as a huge pre-finals test. The earliest surprise was the clash of the ‘white’ jerseys. Both the Dogs and Storm wearing their white strips, making it a spectators nightmare in the distance at Telstra. Why one side didn’t have their darker, alternate strip on was dumbfounding.
In slippery conditions at Telstra, the signs were good early for the Bulldogs – toiling hard, prepared for the struggle and doing their best to stay with the Storm. Admittedly the class of the Melbourne Storm was always slightly above the Bulldogs – but as they do so often, they scrap and struggle; keeping in touch with the top sides.
After plenty of dropped ball in the early periods of the first half, when both teams hung on to the ball – it was the Melbourne Storm forwards proving the difference. Playing much straighter tonight and more direct in their charges – the Storm showed variation to their usual side to side and flat sweeping attack. Brett White was in rare forward as he steamrolled Bulldogs defenders in a couple of insiring charges. The first half try to Billy Slater typifies to me why the Storm are NRL competition leaders – they bring an urgency and desperation level to the game that no other team does. As Luke Patten gives up the chase for a fast running ball that looked to be going dead – Billy Slater launches himself full tilt to successfully ground the ball literally millimetres from the deadball line.
In probably the largest 10m kept by any referee all year in the NRL, the style of Ben Cummins was certainly suiting the Storm more. Billy Slater and Cameron Smith starting to sniff out some gaps as the Storm got some mini momentum rolls going.
For the Dogs, Sonny Bill Williams was up to his usual brutal defence efforts – stinging the Storm attack with some heavy shoulder work. The return of Mark O’Meley didn’t quite give the Bulldogs the edge they wanted, Ogre was a touch rusty and couldn’t give the Bulldogs the ususal impetus he provides.
At the half-time score of 8-6 to Melbourne, really it was impossible to predict a winner – despite the class at times of the Storm side, the everwilling Dogs simply didn’t look like going away.
All stats at the break virtually identical, from tackles made, to line breaks, to possession – it was close.
After more of the same early in half 2, what was to follow was a total dominating blitz from the Storm – capitalising on some good field position and smart kicking from Cronk and Smith. The Storm ran in 4 tries inside a 15 minute period to simply break the spirit of the Bulldogs. Israel Folau came into his own, bagging 3 of the tries for himself and equalling the Melbourne Storm try scoring record for an indiviual in a single season of NRL Rugby League with 20 touchdowns.
As the Storm’s skill, class and relentlessness shone through and eventually blew the Bulldogs off the park. In the process the Storm have smashed the confidence of the Dogs, hammered their points difference and left the Canterbury side hanging onto the Top 4 by a thread.
Yes, it has to be said – a week is a long time in Rugby League. The old cliche once again proving oh so true for the MIA Bulldogs tonight.