SYDNEY (Reuters) - Billy Slater produced a vintage performance as the Melbourne Storm ran in six tries to hammer the North Queensland Cowboys 34-6 on Sunday and secure their third National Rugby League title after 1999 and 2012.
It was a second title for the triumvirate of hooker Cameron Smith, halfback Cooper Cronk and fullback Slater, who have helped make the Storm the most dominant NRL team of the last decade.
A series of playoff chokes added to the loss of the 2007 and 2009 titles for major salary cap breaches have prevented the trio from racking up serious club silverware, however.
On Sunday, though, a brace from wing Josh Addo-Carr and further tries from Felise Kaufusi, Slater, Dale Finucane and Curtis Scott ensured at least one more title before Cronk breaks up the gang by departing at the end of the season.
“It was a wonderful performance but we’ve been doing it all year so we were confident we could bring it,” said Slater, who was named Man of the Match.
The Cowboys had made their fairytale run to the season finale despite playing most of the campaign without the injured co-captains who brought them their only title in 2015, Kangaroos Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott.
They continued to apply the slick football that got them through the playoffs but a match-ending leg injury to Shaun Fensom in the fourth minute indicated their luck had changed.
The Storm had been scoring points for fun against all-comers this year and it was the men in purple who made the first line-breaks in the early exchanges at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium.
The breakthrough came after 19 minutes when Will Chambers claimed a knock-back from a Cowboys kick and offloaded to Addo-Carr, who weaved 70-metres through the defence for a stunning opening try.
Around the half hour mark, Cronk and Slater combined to put Kaufusi in for the second, with Smith again adding the extras, and there was still time for Slater to glide through for a third that sent his side in at halftime with a healthy 18-0 lead.
The Cowboys were never going to lie down, however, and eight minutes after the break, Te Maire Martin gave them some reward for their pressure.
Smith earlier this week won the Dally M medal as the NRL’s best player and showed why in the 64th minute when his neat pass allowed Finucane the space to crash over for a try that snuffed out all but the wildest hopes of an upset.
Three minutes later and Addo-Carr pounced on a Cowboys error to feed Scott for the fifth try which took the lead to 28-6 even after Smith missed the conversion.
Addo-Carr capped a fine evening with his 23rd try of the season after a typical Slater burst seven minutes from time to ensure the purple-clad fans in the crowd of 79,722 would return to Victoria happy.
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by John O'Brien