First tackle: Cleary's puzzling bench moves
In the hours leading up to kick-off coach Ivan Cleary announced that Brent Naden would be relegated to the bench with Tyrone May to start in the centres for the Panthers. May, a utility player with limited experience in the centres, had a forgettable night, even if you overlook the penalty try, during which he had little alternative. He missed some key tackles, he threw a forward pass and generally looked less than threatening with the ball.
Brent Naden was injected into the game in the second half and immediately looked dangerous, making line breaks and running for over 70 metres. Cleary knows his players better than I do and must have had good reason for this move, but it certainly didn't pay off.
The other head-scratching move was to give bench forwards Kurt Capewell and Zane Tetevano about 20 minutes each on the field. Viliame Kikau really struggled with the intensity and could have done with a 10-minute stint on the bench in both halves to clear his head. Sure, he's a game breaker who can turn things at any time, but he made way too many mistakes and put way too much pressure on himself. He played the entire 80 minutes and his effectiveness as a line-busting weapon was diminished.
It is easy to make these calls in retrospect, but everyone will be left to wonder if the result would have been different with Naden starting and a more astute use of the interchange forwards by coach Cleary.
Second tackle: Ironic opening try
There was a large dose of irony involved in the opening try of the Grand Final as the Storm were awarded a penalty try to Justin Olam after only three minutes. Olam dived over the line, but had the ball dislodged by the foot of Tyrone May who stuck out his leg in desperation. There was a time when that was a perfectly legitimate thing to do, but that time ended with the advent of Billy Slater and a slew of dangerous kicking and feet first sliding efforts from the former Storm fullback.
The rule against using the feet in defence of the try-line was introduced to stop Slater from seriously injuring someone. On Sunday night the Storm benefitted with the first four-pointer of the game.
Third tackle: Hynes sits through Grand Final
Storm coach Craig Bellamy handed out the premiership rings to his players and appeared to apologise to Nicho Hynes when his turn came. The utility back didn't find his way onto the field at all during the 80 minutes. His fresh legs could have been useful over the last 10 minutes of the game, but with Jahrome Hughes sent to the sin bin and the Panthers on the rampage, perhaps Bellamy couldn't find the right moment to make the change.
Hynes will have the ring and a clean white jersey to remember the big day. He did make some key contributions during the year and unlike many of the other Storm reserves locked in the Sunshine Coast bubble, he did get to play footy. Cameron Smith made a point to thank those players who turned up every training session throughout the year without ever playing a game. Their contribution to the Storm success was vital.
Fourth tackle: Fittler spills on Papenhuyzen
During the Grand Final commentary, Blues coach Brad Fitter admitted that Storm fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen would indeed be included in his extended State of Origin squad. Fittler couldn't contain the secret any longer after the Storm fullback had streaked away for a brilliant long-distance try just after halftime.
Papenhuyzen was at his brilliant best. He looked dangerous with every touch of the ball, he defused countless kicks from the Panthers, tackled anything that moved and at one point flew through the air to knock a penalty kick back into the field of play.
Papenhuyzen picked up the Clive Churchill Medal for his efforts, with Fittler explaining later that he would be in the running for the No. 14 jersey for New South Wales, coming on as a utility player when the Queensland defence tires. Fittler also said Clint Gutherson would be in the running for the same role. Even with Tom Trbojevic out injured, the Blues still have a mountain of brilliant fullbacks and giving them all a run will prove difficult.
Fifth and last: Tapou leaves Panthers graciously
It must have been a tough moment for Penrith Panthers captain James Tamou, speaking on behalf of his team after the Grand Final loss. It's always a difficult task to be suitably gracious in defeat, but Tamou had the added emotional baggage of knowing that he had just played his last game for the Panthers. It was a difficult end to his stint at Penrith, he only played 35 minutes, sitting on the bench for a large chunk of the game after starting well.
With the former Origin and International star headed to Wests Tigers next year, he was very well spoken in thanking his teammates and wishing them well for their very promising futures. He said he might not be playing with them again, but that he would always be watching them, as they continue their rise to the top of the NRL competition.
Handover: Incredible Storm
No matter how much you hate the Storm, you simply have to salute their long running brilliance. When Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk left most fans assumed the dominant era was over and the Storm would fade back into the NRL premiership pack. They haven't, and they continue to defy and amaze.
A lot of credit is rightly given to the coaching of Craig Bellamy, but those responsible for the Storm recruitment are doing an amazing job. Who would have thought that a player like Brenko Lee could end up a premiership winner and named in a State of Origin squad? Who would have thought a wiry outside back not wanted by the Tigers could turn out to be a Ryan Papenhuyzen?
Since coming into the competition in 1998 they have played 23 seasons and been in 10 Grand Finals. Of those 10 appearances they have been victorious on the field six times. Two of those victories were of course stripped from them for their systematic salary cap cheating, which is part of what makes the club so despised by opposition fans. In the last five years they have been in the decider four times, winning two. Their dominance only seems to grow.
Surely when Cameron Smith leaves or retires, the Storm will struggle. After all they'll have to rely on Dally M rookie-of-the-year Harry Grant in the No.9 jersey, backed up by Brandon Smith. Neither of those players are Cameron Smith quality, well not quite yet anyway.