Craig Bellamy was proud of the hurdles his side had overcome in 2021 but equally at a loss as to why they produced their worst attacking performance of the season to bow out of the title race against Penrith on Saturday.
The Panthers got their ultimate revenge on last year's grand final result with a 10-6 win over a Storm outfit that fumbled their way through a gruelling 80-minute marathon in humid conditions at Suncorp Stadium.
The result ended Melbourne's mission for back-to-back premierships and sets up an enthralling 2021 Telstra Premiership grand final involving Penrith and South Sydney.
Bellamy was adamant the Storm weren't underdone leading into the clash but conceded the club's last two years being away from Melbourne had begun to wear thin in recent weeks.
Melbourne struggled for any cohesion in the opening stages before being dealt a double blow losing Christian Welch (head knock) and Brandon Smith (head knock/shoulder) to injuries.
Bellamy disappointed but proud of Storm's year
Their attack never completely recovered from a completion rate of just 57 per cent at half-time with errors at key stages killing off any chance at breaking Penrith's gritty defence.
Storm centres Justin Olam and Reimis Smith were guilty of errors at key moments while Jahrome Hughes and Cameron Munster struggled to build any momentum.
"We got what we deserved tonight," Bellamy said.
"The Panthers got what they deserved, they were the best team on the night.
Grant, Munster and Papenhuyzen combine to get the Storm right back in it
"We dropped a couple of really good opportunities. It's really hard to take, actually. That was, with our attack, one of our poorest performances of the year.
"Having said that I can't be too critical tonight after what these guys have done for two years, winning the competition last year and minor premiership this year.
"It's just a bit of a shame our biggest game of the year was nowhere near the best."
Melbourne were considered favourites to back up last year's title efforts after breezing through the regular season but Bellamy said behind closed doors their final weeks had been tougher this season than their 2020 campaign.
The Storm shifted base to the Sunshine Coast earlier this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic before returning to Melbourne, only to be recalled to Queensland again days later.
"It's been tough both years for different reasons but I got a sense a month or so ago it was wearing thin on some of them so we've tried to keep things normal for as much as possible," Bellamy said.
"We'll learn from this and will try and celebrate what we've done for the rest of the year over the next couple of days."
Bellamy paid tribute to several departing players including co-captain Dale Finucane, Josh Addo-Carr and Nicho Hynes, who are bound for rival clubs next season.
Brandon Smith kicks the first 20/40. In a preliminary final no less.
"We've had some wonderful players at our club and wonderful competitors but Dale is one of the best," Bellamy said.
"I think he's been better for our club than the club's been for him. He's taught a lot of young guys how they should prepare. We haven't had a better competitor.
"The legacy he leaves is how much the young guys have learnt off him. If you want to be professional and do it properly go and watch Dale Finucane.
"Josh has been wonderful for our club as well. He can turn a game in the blink of an eye. He's one of our personality players. With Nicho he's been a wonderful addition to our club as well."
Bellamy pays Finucane ultimate compliment
Finucane added the side never gave themselves a chance on Saturday to replicate last year's efforts
"I'm disappointed for the team, the season we had this year was really positive for the most part," he said.
"The achievements of 19 [wins] in a row and the minor premiership. But, as Craig always says it's a new competition in the finals.
"I think we were quite uncharacteristic with the ball, just a really disappointing way to end the season.
"There's no excuse for the performance we put out tonight. It was a tough game, end-to-end but we didn't give ourselves a decent chance. You can't give Penrith that much possession."
Bellamy praises departing players in Addo-Carr and Hynes