THE sign said it all: “Tonight we’re going to party like it’s 1999” in reference to the Melbourne Storm’s maiden premiership win as the Storm players went wild with celebration after their 34-8 grand final thrashing of Manly’s Sea Eagles on Sunday night.
For former Batemans Bay junior player Ben Cross, it was his first grand final triumph, and a victory over both the demons from last year’s loss and his much-publicised hamstring injury.
When he left Canberra two years ago, Cross was a fringe first grader with much potential but a problem with head-high tackles, but now he is a grand final winner and one of the most valued forwards in the NRL.
Commentators Peter Sterling and Andrew Voss marvelled at Cross’s recovery from his injury and described his contribution to the Storm’s win as “dynamic” and “outstanding”.
He and his fellow Storm forwards Brett White, Cameron Smith, Jeff Lima and Ryan Hoffman outmuscled their Manly counterparts and set a platform for the likes of Greg Inglis and Billy Slater to run amok.
Any doubts that Cross had got through the game injury-free were dispelled when he hurled a bucket full of Gatorade and ice over coach Craig Bellamy and captain Cameron Smith, neither of whom appeared to be bothered.
Cross had ruled himself out on Thursday night, but came good on Friday.
When the Bay Post/Moruya Examiner spoke with Cross on Monday afternoon he said that his injury gave him no grief during the game.
“Not at all, it was fine all the way through,” he said.
Cross said the lead-up to Sunday’s grand final was more relaxed than last year’s.
“We lightened up a bit and enjoyed the camp, and that made a difference,” he said.
Coach Bellamy, two-time winner of the NRL Coach of the Year, helped Cross to eliminate head-high tackles from his game.
“We were told that if we weren’t disciplined, we wouldn’t keep our spot, so I did,” he said.
Naturally, the win was the highlight of the 28-year-old’s career.
“It was tremendous; a perfect way to finish,” he said.
Cross and his team mates partied until 6am on Monday, but were all in tip-top condition for the flight home to Melbourne.
Cross wasn’t feeling even a tinge of sadness due to the grand final being his last game for Melbourne.
“No, if you’ve got to leave, you’ve got to leave,” he said.
Cross will depart for Newcastle on October 20 to join the Knights for the 2008 season. He may have to spend his first two or three weeks on the sideline as he has been charged by the NRL judiciary for a face-rake on Manly fullback Brett Stewart.