Rugby League legends, including Glenn Lazarus, Tawera Nikau, Matt Geyer and Scott Hill, travelled to see the troubled Melbourne Storm end a tumultuous week with a stunning 40-6 win over New Zealand Warriors yesterday. Storm played like defending champions, not like a club in disgrace and disarray following the revelation that they had broken the salary cap.
Stripped of all points for this season and of their two premierships since 2007, Craig Bellamy, the coach, rallied his troops over the past three days, saying they would stand up for themselves and fight their way back. The players answered his call, crushing the hapless Warriors before 23,906 cheering fans. Cameron Smith, the captain, said after the match that he did not know what to expect of the players after the shock of losing their premierships and points for this season on Thursday.
"The first few days were heart-breaking," he said. "Earlier we didn't know how we were going to get through this game." Despite the club unable to accrue any points, Smith pleaded for the fans to continue to show their support and said they would be repaid with a 100 per cent effort. "Every time we put on this jersey to play for our club we're going to do our best and we hope you'll all turn up. Hopefully for the rest of the year we can do what we did tonight."
All 15 NRL clubs have backed the controversial ruling that prevents the Storm earning any points in 2010. In a telephone conference yesterday, which did not include the Storm, all chief executives supported the NRL's strict penalties. But the NRL's decision to deny the Storm the right to earn points for the rest of the year drew criticism for being detrimental for the 2010 season and too heavy a blow for the rebuilding Storm.
However, Shane Richardson, the Rabbitohs boss, said the punishments were justified. "There are people running agendas around this debate but it is absolutely the right decision," he said. "They can't be allowed to finish ahead of any other club in the competition. "It's all very well to say move three or four players perhaps even against their wishes but who is going to take them?" Brisbane and Newcastle, two clubs who said they did have room available within their salary cap to buy players, ruled out any support for the Storm being "broken up" now in an attempt to bring them under the cap.
"It would be a clear disadvantage to the other teams who do not have room in their cap," said Bruno Cullen, the Brisbane Broncos chief executive. "We are one of the few clubs who would have some room because of some of the events this year but it wouldn't be fair and we support the NRL's decision as it stands," Cullen added. All clubs insisted they had no issue with playing the Storm in the weeks ahead, accepting that it would mean all clubs played against the same opposition throughout the year.
"They have been caught cheating," the Warriors' Wayne Scurrah said. "If it was at the end of the season they would lose all their points and at this point of the season they can't be allowed to earn any points," he said. In yesterday's other games, St George Illawara beat the Sydney Roosters 28-6 while Canberra lost 26-24 at home to South Sydney. * PA