Time to look ahead to Sunday's decider! Rob Crosby has a full look at both teams and what to expect ...
33 hours ago
May 8, 2004
Melbourne Storm has continued to lay the foundation for long-term success following fullback sensation Billy Slater?s decision to re-sign with the club today for a further three years, keeping him at Olympic Park until at least 2007.
After bursting on to the National Rugby League last year, Slater has emerged as one of the brightest stars of the competition, with his electrifying pace and sublime footwork placing him on the verge of Queensland State of Origin selection at the age of 20.
Slater was the Storm?s leading try-scorer in his rookie season last year and was the NRL?s unofficial Rookie of the Year, making him one of the hottest properties in rugby league.
Originally from Innisfail in north Queensland, Slater admitted he was keen to repay the faith shown in him by Storm coach Craig Bellamy.
?I?m really happy here at the Storm and I hoped that I wouldn?t be leaving and thankfully that is the case,? Slater said.
?I do think I owe something to the club, Craig obviously gave me a start when I wasn?t expected to play first-grade and I think loyalty is a big thing.
?Hopefully I can stay at the club for even longer than what I have signed for.?
Bellamy?s re-signing earlier this year and the commitment shown by other young guns including Cameron Smith and Ryan Hoffman, heavily influenced Slater?s decision to stay in Melbourne and re-sign before the NRL?s anti-tampering deadline of June 30.
?You need a very good coach and a competitive side wherever you go and I think we?ve got that here,? he explained.
?Craig signing for another three years definitely put me one step closer to re-signing with the club.
?And then after Cameron (Smith) and a few others signed, I thought that there were definitely a lot of positives here and I think the club will go along way the young talent it has coming through.
?I know the Storm won the competition in 1999 but the side has changed a lot since then, it?s gone through some rebuilding years and I think we?re a top four side now.
?If we play our game and play how we want to play, we?ll be right up there for a few years to come.?
According to Slater the move south required some adjustment, but was made all the more easier due to the family atmosphere at the Storm.
?Obviously coming from Queensland I didn?t really like Melbourne that much at first, but it really grows on you,? Slater added.
?The cold gets to you a little bit but I really like it here and the guys at the club are really close and we are basically like a family which is great.?
Bellamy believes Slater?s re-signing is a major boost for Melbourne and will ensure the club maintains a competitive edge in years to come.
?He?s an exciting young player and we know he still has a lot of improvement in him so he?s just the sort of player we need here at the club,? Bellamy said.
?He?s very exciting to watch and players with his ability are fairly rare, so we?re happy to keep him here for both the short and long-term.
?Not only is he a good football player, and he?s going to be better, but he?s got that bit of personality that a club really needs.
?We?ve planned for the future and those guys we?ve signed up, including Billy, are a really important part of that future.?
After the initial surprise of Slater?s stellar debut season last year, Bellamy believes the Storm fullback is a more complete player in 2004.
?When I first saw him I knew he was raw, but I just knew that he had something about him,? Bellamy said.
?What he did last year was tremendous, he was very green and he showed some inexperience at times, but I just thought his progress was outstanding.
?He?s certainly a more mature player physically and he?s definitely a more mature player mentally. This year he doesn?t have to be seen to be playing well by making his breaks and scoring tries, he does a lot of other good, solid stuff as well.
?When it?s a tight game he realises now that he doesn?t have to necessarily score tries to be a valuable player for us and that?s been a good learning curve for him.?
In other news:
May 8, 2004
Kimmorley, who was part of Melbourne?s successful 1999 premiership campaign, terrorised the home side all night in just his second match at Olympic Park since leaving the Storm at the end of 2000.
The Sharks? No.7 was well backed up by fullback David Peachey as the Storm put in its worst defensive performance of the season, letting Cronulla in for seven tries.
The Storm started the match well enough, fullback Billy Slater picking up a soft try in the opening six minutes before the Sharks piled on five unanswered tries in 22 minutes to set up the win.
The loss was the Storm?s first defeat at night at Olympic Park since Round 25 in 2000 and snaps the club?s 13 game winning streak under lights.
?I?m a little bit embarrassed at how we defended in that first half, I can?t remember the last time we defended as poorly,? Storm coach Craig Bellamy said.
?It?s a clich? and it?s an old one, but it?s pretty true, your defence mirrors your attitude and our attitude was poor tonight and our defence was poor.
?It?s very disappointing that we turned up at our home ground and defended like that.?
Slater, who re-signed with the Storm for a further three years this week, burst through some soft Cronulla defence 20 metres out from goal, to score in typical flamboyant style.
The Sharks hit straight back following a Peachey-inspired try, which set up centre Phil Bailey in the corner.
The try followed a controversial forward pass ruling from referee Shayne Hayne that Bellamy believed changed the momentum of the game.
A Kimmorley penalty goal and a try to winger David Simmons had the visitors up 10-6 after 15 minutes.
Cronulla?s surge continued when Paul Gallen scored in the 19th minute after Kimmorley switched play with a decisive cutout ball to his waiting second-rower.
It was Kimmorley again who created headaches for the Storm when he off-loaded a short ball for five-eighth Matt Hilder who crashed over just right of the sticks.
Kimmorley continued his dominance with a nicely executed bomb to the corner post, which saw Peachey fly high, gather mid air and score.
But five minutes from halftime the Storm woke from its slumber.
Second rower David Kidwell started the fight-back with a weaving run before offloading to replacement winger Dustin Cooper.
The ball hit Cronulla winger Simmons in the head, propelling the ball in goal where Cooper managed to dive on it before rolling out of bounds.
It was then a pinpoint cut-out ball from Slater which allowed centre Steven Bell to score in the shadows of half time and put Storm within striking distance at 24-18.
The second half was a dour struggle, the first 20 minutes proved to be a tussle with both teams having opportunities to score.
But it was a strong dummy half run from hooker Michael Sullivan that opened up the game for Cronulla once more. Sullivan slammed the ball down over the tryline after pushing his way through two Storm defenders.
Centre Nigel Vagana put the game out of reach for Storm when he scored untouched after following a Kimmorley bomb.
Cooper and Bell both scored their second tries in the last ten minutes of the game to add some respectability to the final score.
DETAILS STORM 26 Tries: Slater 1, Cooper 2, Bell 2 Goals: Smith 3/5
SHARKS 36 Tries: Bailey 1, Simmons 1, Gallen 1, Hilder 1, Peachey 1, Sullivan 1, Vagana 1 Goals: Kimmorley 4/8
For further information contact
James Avery: Phone (03) 9421 3222 Mobile: 0411 623 024 [email protected]