Off the Wall

The Melbourne Storm are entitled to claim to be the stand out team of the current decade, and even the NRL era, but the celebrations today need to be tempered by the reality that grand finals don't mean automatic success off the field.

The Storm not only won the NRL premiership, they claimed the Toyota Cup title as well.

Not that the Storm's Melbourne fans would know it - the Channel Nine Melbourne coverage of the grand final did not start until 4.30, and finished straight after fulltime. So no coverage of the Toyota Cup Storm win, and no coverage of the presentation after the Telstra premiership grand final.

That just proves how hard it is for The Storm, and the NRL, to make a serious, long term impact in AFL heartland. And it makes it absolutely crucial that the next television agreement ensures that the nonsense Nine inflicted on fans cannot continue.

But all that said, we should take nothing away from Melbourne's achievements yesterday.

To win both the Telstra premiership and the Toyota cup in the one season is a significant achievement. And when you look at the number of top players the Storm have lost in recent years, credit must be given to Craig Bellamy and his coaching staff - and even the administration led by Brian Waldron.

It needs to be said that the club has a most generous benefactor in the form of the club's owner - News Limited. The Storm's fan base is probably a fraction of most other clubs, but funding is not an issue, not for as long as News Limited controls the cheque book.

But, as I wrote last week, the excuses about crowd numbers run out in March 2010 when the Storm take possession of a new, state of the art stadium. Yesterday's victory must be used as the impetus to get average attendances up, and significantly up. The excuses about poor facilities are about to end!

The Eels should not be despondent about yesterday's loss. Far from it!

The Eels, with a new and settled administration, and a first class coach, can look to 2010 and beyond, with confidence.

True, a couple of decisions went against them at crucial stages, but the best team on the day won fairly and squarely.

The Eels have done a great service to the game, and the game in Sydney in recent weeks. And the timing could not have been better. If the Eels are strong then the AFL is going to find it even harder to make its expansion plans effective. And the NRL is helped by the Bulldogs strong showing - and the solid foundations the Wests Tigers have was on show in their narrow Toyota Cup grand final loss.

Notwithstanding a season of far too many off field dramas, the game ends the 2009 season in good shape. Good television ratings, good finals crowds, and good football - the right combination for future growth and success.

But problems remain. The financial state of a number of clubs is perilous. The game continues to struggle in the bush partly due to urban drift, but the NRL/ARL need to put more resources into helping rural and regional clubs; and the AFL has to be taken seriously, given the fact it is cashed up and aggressive!

I will have more to say about other challenges facing the game in the weeks ahead - but for today congratulations to the Storm on a well deserved grand final victory!