I played in three Grand Finals with Leeds and though the Challenge Cup wins with Hull were fantastic, Old Trafford is the best venue I’ve played at.
But this year has been strange all round and with Manchester United’s ground not being available, they have had to look for other venues.
KCOM is a fantastic stadium and worthy of being second choice to Old Trafford. It is a shame there won’t be any fans there for what is going to be a different sort of Grand Final, but it has the surroundings to make it a special occasion for the players, if not the one anyone would have envisaged 12 months ago.
Yesterday’s NRL Grand Final was a real game of two halves, with Melbourne leading 22-0 at half-time and then Penrith hitting back at them after the break before being pipped 26-20. Melbourne were a bit fortunate with their first-half tries, there was a penalty try, an interception and the knock down on Cameron Smith where he picked up and scored and at that stage I actually thought Penrith were playing the better of the two teams.
They looked more likely to score, but the desperation and resilience and dogged defence from Melbourne kept Penrith out and that’s what proved the difference.
When the scoreline gets away from you a little bit, it puts pressure on you to come up with something. Penrith chanced their arm a bit, started coming up with some points and ground their way back into the game.
They just ran out of time in the end. With a couple more minutes on the clock, against 11 men after Melbourne had a couple sin-binned, the Storm would have been a bit worried, but the willingness to work hard for each other in the first half and the opportunistic way they put points on the board was what won them the game in the end.
It is impossible not to admire what Melbourne have achieved as a club since they started in 1998. They have reached 10 Grand Finals, which is a phenomenal record, particularly in a league where the winner of the competition does tend to vary from year to year, certainly more than in Super League.
There is no yo-yoing with Melbourne, they don’t tend to follow a good season with a bad one; even when they don’t make the Grand Final they are in or around the top four.
Craig Bellamy, their coach, is at the heart of that. He has been there for a long time and has a phenomenal record of success. I was lucky enough in 2018, when I was coming out of playing, to spend a week with Melbourne and it was fascinating to see how they operate.
Their football manager Frank Ponissi said to me: “Don’t expect to come here and see a magic recipe for success, because you won’t. What it is is hard work, we demand consistency and want players to come here every day and push themselves and strive to become better”.
That’s testament to them as a club; they are very good at it and they see the fruits of their labour year in and year out.
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