Despite a lionhearted performance by outgoing captain Stephen Kearney, Melbourne Storm has been ousted from the NRL finals race for the second year in a row.
Kearney, who will join English Super League club Hull next year, was at his inspirational best in his final game for the Storm as Melbourne�s finals run came to a shuttering holt in the face of a 43-18 defeat at Aussie Stadium today.
The Bulldogs bounced back from last week�s shock loss to the all-conquering North Queensland Cowboys, to dispose of the Storm in the second round of finals for the second year running.
Melbourne failed to show the form that saw it clean up the Brisbane Broncos in last week�s first semi final and must now look to 2005 for the chance to claim its second ever NRL premiership.
Disappointed Storm coach Craig Bellamy paid tribute to Kearney and inaugural prop Rodney Howe, who is expected to retire now that Melbourne�s season has finished.
�I just know having coached these two (Kearney and Howe) that I�m a better person and probably a better coach,� Bellamy said.
�They�ve got great attitudes to what they do � they�ve been a great influence in what I�ve done over the past couple of years and I know the younger players have really appreciated it too.
�It�s a bit of a shame to go out on this note but certainly I thought they really busted their arses, especially Steve � I thought he was wonderful for us today and the score would have been a little bit more uglier if he hadn�t played.� Kearney believes the Storm is well placed to move ahead following his imminent departure, with some excellent young talent coming through the ranks.
�Obviously it�s a little bit sad but it�s been great, I�ve enjoyed my time with the Storm, it has been fantastic, they�ve been a great club to me,� Kearney said.
�I know I leave the club in very good hands, obviously there are younger players coming through there and I know they�re really the future of our club.
�I�m quite excited in the sense of being able to watch them when I am over in England but I know the club, with Craig and the staff they�ve got there, is in very good hands so I feel pretty good about that.�
Despite finishing the season on a disappointingly familiar note, Bellamy highlighted the Storm�s development over the past 12 months.
�It�s not a great way to finish but I�m not going to let one poor performance today spoil our whole year because we have made improvements in our team,� Bellamy added.
�It�s a bit like last year I suppose but I take a little bit of hope because I just know we�re a better team than we were this time last year, you probably wouldn�t think it after the display today, but I think we have come a little way.� A sluggish start saw the Storm behind 16-0 after just eleven minutes courtesy of tries to the Bulldogs� Adam Perry, Andrew Ryan and Hazem El Masri. Bulldogs halfback Brent Sherwin played a starring role in getting the Belmore side off to a flying start; he had a hand in everything as the Bulldogs eased out to a 22-6 halftime lead.
The Storm�s only try of the first half came through centre Steven Bell after the dynamic three-quarter ran onto a neat Robbie Kearns offload before outpacing the Bulldogs defence to score untouched.
Bell�s try was overshadowed by another Bulldogs try just five minutes before the halftime break, centre Willie Tonga on the receiving end of some slick passing to score down the left side on the last tackle of a repeat set of six.
Melbourne didn�t get the second half start it was chasing when Bulldogs interchange pivot Jonathon Thurston scored a simple try from close range in the 48th minute.
A try to fullback Luke Patten just four minutes later further dented the Storm�s chances of a belated comeback, but some hope was restored following two tries in two minutes to Bell and fullback Billy Slater.
But a Bulldogs penalty goal to El Masri, a field goal to Sherwin and a last minute try to Thurston ensured the Bulldogs ran away with the match leaving Melbourne to lick its wounds in readiness for next year.
DETAILS STORM 28 Tries: Bell 2, Slater 1 Goals: Orford 3/3
BULLDOGS 43 Tries: Perry 1, Ryan 1, El Masri 1, Tonga 1, Thurston 2, Patten 1 Goals: El Masri 7/8, Sherwin 1 field goal
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James Avery: Phone (03) 9421 3222 Mobile: 0411 623 024 [email protected]