Despite coach Craig Bellamy managing Ryan Papenhuysen and missing Cameron Smith through injury, and then losing Cameron Munster midway through the second half with a knee injury, the Melbourne Storm cruised to a 41-10 win over NRL bottom side Canterbury at Sunshine Coast Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Multiple tries to Josh Addo-Carr and Kenny Bromwich paced the Storm’s win – but the gloss on it was tarnished a quarter-hour into the second half when the influential Munster had to leave the game when Josh Jackson rolled over on his right knee, a repeat medial ligament injury which will cause Munster to miss the Storm’s next two or three games.
But in spite of the adversity, Melbourne enjoyed vast spells of possession and momentum to capture their seventh win on the trot – and enhancing some vital form in the process, with blockbusters against Sydney and Parramatta immediately coming up.
The Storm’s overall quality in depth on its roster shone through, with the elusive speed of Josh Addo-Carr and Suliasi Vinuvalu down the flanks and reserve utility Nicho Hynes being a threat all over the paddock, to dominate the team’s attacking forays for large stretches of the match, in lieu of missing Cam Smith, Papenhuysen and ultimately Munster.
“I want to get ready for the Roosters,” vowed the ultra-competitive Munster, who previously missed two games after incurring the same injury against New Zealand in Round 7.
But Bellamy took a more realistic approach on Munster’s status.
“We’re going to have to give him the week off. Not sure when he’ll be back, but it might be a couple of weeks. It’s not ideal, with Cam Smith and now Cam Munster injured, with some big games coming up. But we need to roll with the punches,” said Bellamy after the match.
The Bulldogs squandered an early opportunity to score first following some early Storm miscues, when Lachlan Lewis missed a penalty goal inexplicably wide left from close range.
Ultimately, Addo-Carr made the Bulldogs pay for their early wasted opportunities, intercepting Lewis’s lazy pass and turning on the afterburners to take it the distance from end-to-end for the opening try of the match.
Three minutes later, Melbourne doubled the early lead, taking advantage of being gifted a fresh set and an overall lack of Bulldogs defensive resistance when Hynes ran over the try line from short range, and with Munster’s second consecutive conversion, the Storm were staked to an early 12-0 lead – with every suggestion that a rout was on the cards.
Justin Olam made it three tries for the Storm within the game’s opening quarter-hour, running free and unabated over the try line after Hynes attracted three Bulldogs defenders. Munster missed the conversion, but the Storm were already making a statement early.
Kenny Bromwich, moments after being denied a try via video review, ultimately joined the tries party 23 minutes in, despite Ofahiki Ogden’s best attempts to keep him out. After Munster’s conversion to pad the lead to 22-0, the Storm were virtually running a racket of one-way traffic.
The Bulldogs broke through to ensure the match wouldn’t be a whitewashing when Tim Lafai got around Vinuvalu to touch the ball down in the corner. However, Lewis missed the conversion, but at least Canterbury enjoyed the consolation of being on the board before halftime.
However, as the Bulldogs were more prone to committing errors than getting things right against an elite NRL side, the Storm were always good value to add to their 22-4 head before halftime.
They eventually would, on the final play before the siren, with a single point from a Munster field goal.
Up 23-4 as the second half started, Melbourne’s resistance was breached five minutes in. Reimus Smith out-leaped both Olam and Munster to haul in Kieran Foran’s high fifth-tackle kick – and with Lewis nailing the conversion, at 23-10, Canterbury had acquired some unlikely momentum.
The Storm temporarily quelled the Bulldogs’ swing in momentum a couple of minutes later, as Munster deflected another kick intended for Reimus Smith out of play.
Moments later, Lewis received a ten-minute sin-bin ruling for a dangerous tackle, thereby hurting the Bulldogs’ challenge. Munster’s injury came halfway through the man-advantage, thus casting a pall over the Storm’s attempts to take the momentum back into their favor.
Yet if Bellamy and his team were worried over Munster’s injury, Vinuvalu stepped up to ultimately punish the Bulldogs for another miscue, picking up an errant pass off the turf and blasting through the open spaces to tally the Storm’s fifth try – and Hynes added the conversion to restore Melbourne’s advantage to 19 points.
Kenny Bromwich, given some greater freedom in Cam Smith’s absence to make incisive runs and gain metres, added his second try with 18 minutes to go with a powerful run over the line. Now leading by a comfortable 35-10 margin, the Storm were in ascendancy once again.
At this stage, it wasn’t a question as to whether Melbourne would win, but by how much. In the final minute, the speed of Addo-Carr came to the forefront again to rack up his second try of the afternoon, blowing past Lewis to pin Jahrome Hughes’s long kick down, for the exclamation point on the 31-point win with Hynes’s conversion.
Bellamy praised his team’s depth for being match-winners.
“It’s a strange old game. A bit stop-start for us – but the middle twenty minutes in the first half saw us get on top for good,” he said.
“The game was a really good education for us, and our younger guys, particularly in our spine.
“We played to our strengths today, and that won the game for us,” added Bellamy.