Melbourne Secures First NRL Title Since Losing Two Championships

The Melbourne Storm beat the Canterbury Bulldogs 14-4 to win Australia’s National Rugby League title, securing the championship 2 1/2 years after losing the 2007 and 2009 crowns for salary cap breaches.

The Storm, who were playing in their fifth grand final in seven seasons, got first-half tries from Ryan Hoffman, Billy Slater and Justin O’Neill last night at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium and held off their opponents in a scoreless second half.

Melbourne broke through for its first title in 1999 and won again in 2007 and 2009. The NRL stripped the team of those two championships in April 2010 for long-term breaches of the competition’s salary cap, saying the Storm were found to have made player payments outside the cap totaling A$1.7 million ($1.8 million) over five years.

“We were gutted a few years ago with our players and morale wasn’t at its highest but we built this club back up,” Storm captain Cameron Smith said in a televised interview with Channel Nine. “Last year we nearly got to the grand final. This year we did and we made it count.”

Storm half-back Cooper Cronk was awarded the Clive Churchill Medal as the game’s most valuable player after he produced a deft pass to send full-back Slater over in the 32nd minute and a pin-point kick for winger O’Neill to score in the corner on the stroke of halftime. Sam Perrett got the Bulldogs’ only try in the 26th minute.

Melbourne’s winning margin in front of a crowd of 82,976 was limited by inaccurate goal-kicking from Smith, who was successful with just one of his five attempts.

The Storm’s victory denied teams from Australia’s biggest city a sweep of the nation’s premier sports championships after the Sydney Swans beat the Hawthorn Hawks by 10 points two days ago in the Australian Football League grand final.

The Bulldogs, who finished two points ahead of Melbourne atop the 2012 regular-season standings, had been seeking their first NRL title since 2004.