In his 18th season at the helm of the Storm juggernaut he has created, Craig Bellamy has produced arguably his greatest feat.

This was Bellamy's third legitimate premiership from his ninth grand final - after the Storm were stripped of the 2007 and 2009 titles for salary cap breaches.

But the master coach was in no mood for celebration as the Panthers mounted an unlikely second-half comeback.

After Nathan Cleary scored to make the margin 26-20 with under a minute to go - after Storm had led 26-0 - Bellamy lost his cool in the coaches' box.

Channel 9 cameras captured the moment he let loose, unleashing a verbal spray then walking to the back of the box to take his anger out on a chair.

Minutes later, all that was forgotten as he celebrated on the sidelines with legend Cam Smith and his players.

 


The Storm won their first title in 1999 and the 2012 premiership has held a special place in the heart of the Storm because it was their first following the massive salary cap penalties.

The Storm were dominant in 2017 and the grand final against North Queensland was a cakewalk.

But this title will always be remembered given the challenges the Storm faced, and overcame, to be crowned 2020 champions.


DID SMITH SAVE HIS BEST FOR LAST?

If this was Cameron Smith's farewell to rugby league, the Melbourne grand master saved his best for last.

The NRL's most-capped player summoned 18 years of wisdom and big-match guile to spearhead mighty Melbourne's thrilling 26-20 disposal of Penrith to clinch a club-defining premiership at Sydney's ANZ Stadium.

The 2020 grand final was billed as a game for the ages: Penrith's posse of fearless young guns versus Melbourne's military machine.

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Cameron Smith and the Storm celebrate as 2020 Premiers. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
Cameron Smith and the Storm celebrate as 2020 Premiers. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

In the end, we witnessed 55 minutes of Melbourne magic, a Penrith riposte and two weird, wild and wonderful halves.

Don't be fooled by the scoreline. It seemed close, but the damage was done in the first 40, Melbourne driving one nail into Penrith's coffin as they charged to halftime leading 22-0.

The chief destroyer was Smith, the man with veins of ice, the Storm champion picking Penrith apart with the precision of an NRL surgeon in what could be his 430th and final game.

Smith insists he has not decided his future but if he chooses to go quietly, without the romantic lap-of-honour script, well … this was his sweet kiss goodbye.

SCameron Smith lifts the Premiership Trophy. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
SCameron Smith lifts the Premiership Trophy. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

The Melbourne skipper not only broke Penrith's hearts, he broke yet more records.

His try and 14-point haul saw him become the greatest pointscorer in grand-final history with 44, eclipsing Souths icon Eric Simms (41), and at 37 years and 129 days, he is the game's oldest premiership winner.

The Panthers, chasing an 18th straight win, surged in the second half. The Storm had Jahrome Hughes and Brandon Smith sin-binned in the final 10 minutes, but Smith senior ensured Melbourne held their nerve to claim their fourth premiership and second in four seasons.

"It's a great feeling," Smith said. "Geez we did it hard way in the end. Penrith fought to the end, but I am really proud of this football side. We are a close-knit team.

Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy shares a moment with Cameron Smith after the final siren. Picture: Brett Costello
Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy shares a moment with Cameron Smith after the final siren. Picture: Brett Costello

 

STORM TROOPERS

Melbourne's defensive mentality in the opening 30 minutes was the bedrock of their title triumph.

The Storm sensationally butchered the kick-off, with Melbourne fumbling in the first 10 seconds after Brenko Lee was almost dragged into touch in a disastrous opening.

But while Penrith looked likely, their execution was too frantic in clutch moments. All the while, the Storm, their composure bolstered by a culture of grand-final know-how, stayed calm, keeping faith in their defensive systems.

THE FULL NELSON

Storm prop Nelson Asofa-Solomona was the heartbeat of Melbourne's pack. When the going was tough early on, the 130kg Melbourne monster muscled up to Panthers bookends James Fisher-Harris and James Tamou.

It was NAS' ferocious charge close to the line that laid the platform for Cam Smith's try five seconds before halftime to leave Penrith in tatters at 22-0. He was inspirational all night

Ryan Papenhuyzen was a deserved Clive Churchill Medallist. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
Ryan Papenhuyzen was a deserved Clive Churchill Medallist. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

 

NO. 1 WITH A BULLET

Storm fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen was a deserved winner of the Clive Churchill Medal. He scored one of the great grand-final tries, ghosting past Nathan Cleary and racing 80 metres to score in the 46th minute for a 26-0 lead. Fit, fast and energetic, he is a freak.

CENTRES OF ATTENTION

Unheralded Storm centres Lee and Justin Olam were outstanding.

Olam's power running has been a feature this season, so it was only fitting the PNG hulk should open the scoring in the fourth minute, awarded a penalty try after Tyrone May kicked the ball out of his grasp as he dived for the line.

On the opposite side of the field, Lee nailed his job. The maligned centre held his own against Stephen Crichton to give Smith the perfect send-off … if he wants it.

"WE'LL ALWAYS HAVE A CONNECTION TO 2020"

The Storm's class of 2020 could be the best team in Melbourne history after producing one of the great grand final performances to win the most unique NRL premiership.

Under the guidance of Bellamy and the direction of mercurial captain Cameron Smith, the Storm snapped Penrith's 17-game winning streak with a 26-20 boilover at ANZ Stadium last night.

The win was as remarkable as Melbourne's resilience, determination and dedication this year.

The Storm were forced to leave Melbourne on June 24 as the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic started to gather steam in Victoria's capital.

MCameron Smith celebrates victory at full time. Picture: Brett Costello
MCameron Smith celebrates victory at full time. Picture: Brett Costello


The players were told they were leaving for two or three weeks. Four months later, they are yet to return after making the Sunshine Coast home.

The Storm will take the Provan-Summons Trophy with them when they finally go back to Melbourne on Wednesday following what has been a season for the ages.

And despite being one of the NRL's most maligned clubs, few could begrudge Melbourne for their efforts in 2020.

This is a team that was written off by many early in the year.

They no longer boast the likes of NRL legends Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk or Greg Inglis. They had no genuine halfback.

Melbourne's Cameron Smith celebrates after scoring a try late in the first half. Picture: Brett Costello
Melbourne's Cameron Smith celebrates after scoring a try late in the first half. Picture: Brett Costello

But the Storm have something that cannot be measured in statistics and representative jerseys.

"It's hard to compare different teams from different years," Smith said.

"We've had some really close knit teams. Given the situation we've been in this year, living in each other's pockets, it's something very different.

"We've grown as a unit this year.

"There's connections in this team we'll have for the rest of our lives. We can be anywhere in the world but we'll always have a connection to 2020 and this team."

At 37, Smith is in the twilight of his career, but still as dominant as ever. There was a sense he would refuse to lose this grand final, his 430th and possibly last NRL match, and that is how it panned out.

The Storm made the most un-Storm-like start when halfback Jahrome Hughes allowed the opening kick-off to bounce and causing an error.

It was one of the few times Melbourne would put a foot wrong in a first half blitz which saw them lead the young Panthers 22-0 at the break.

The Storm's defence was desperate and the game was as good as over despite a late surge by Penrith.



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