Thanks to a second-half onslaught that is becoming a habit, the Melbourne Storm extended their current winning streak to five matches and advanced their Queensland dominance over the Brisbane Broncos to ten matches, with a 46-8 win that looked a lot easier than it actually was.
By virtue of the win, the Storm leapfrogged to the top of the NRL ladder for the time being, pending third-placed Penrith’s game against Gold Coast on Sunday.
And it was the second week in a row that the Storm rode a second-half whitewashing after racking up four tries to none against the Titans in Round 10.
But Friday night’s exploits were even greater, with six tries scored without reply after the break, as the Broncos did not look even close to piercing the scoreboard, after a first half that was a lot tighter.
Nonetheless, Storm coach Craig Bellamy, in keeping his cards close to his vest in the middle of a long season, downplayed his team’s dominance after halftime.
“When we scored the first try [of the match], we stopped worrying about what we had to do, and that allowed the Broncos to take advantage,” Bellamy said afterwards.
“We had a fair effort in the second half to get this result, and we were very good, but you can see where the other side gets frustrated,” Bellamy added.
The Broncos came out with a determined sharp edge which flattered their recent poor form since the resumption of NRL play.
Even amid an error-ridden opening twenty minutes, and after Josh Addo-Carr scored an early opening try from a Kenneath Bromwich kick that the Broncos failed to cover, Herbie Farnworth – unlucky not to have been awarded an earlier try that was overturned on video review – raced down the sideline to level matters.
Then with the rain increasing, Kotoni Staggs got awarded a shot at a penalty goal which he easily converted to give the Broncos a shocking 8-6 advantage.
And in addition to an inspired attacking style for the Broncos which saw them execute a series of quicker, longer lateral passes to advance the ball downfield, their defending from Anthony Milford to deny the Storm a go-ahead try from Addo-Carr served a great example of a greater aggression and commitment to keep the high-flying Storm in check.
“If we can play like we did over those first 40 minutes, over a longer period of time, then we can give ourselves a chance to get results,” said Anthony Seibold, the Broncos’ under-fire coach.
But thanks to an inspired performance from Cam Smith and his Storm teammates, from that moment onward, this was not going to be that sort of night for the Broncos.
After Smith converted a penalty goal award to level matters, Jahrome Hughes converted the go-ahead try from a Farnworth obstruction penalty that gave the Storm a fresh set soon thereafter – and to be honest, some comical attempts from the Broncos to tackle Hughes inside the last five metres.
That found Melbourne in front at the intermission, whether the lead was deserved or not.
The second half, inevitably, was another story.
Early after halftime, Addo-Carr’s skill and speed in a single moment ate the Broncos alive from a half-hearted fifth-tackle Broncos attacking effort, ultimately resulting in a Bromwich try that put the Storm up ten points after Smith’s failed conversion.
And with that, Melbourne’s class was just beginning to come to the front.
Addo-Carr and Suliasi Vunivalu were consistently giving the Broncos headaches down the flanks, but the dirty work from Cam Munster, Ryan Papenhuyzen and Dale Finucane helped keep Brisbane honest from returning to its quicker, more lethal first-half attacking exploits.
Then it was time for the Storm to show its gulf in form, and share the wealth around. Timo Faasuamaleaui ran direct through the heart of the Broncos’ resistance for one try and Papenhuyzen – taking advantage of Munster’s brilliant approach work – took on Brisbane defenders like a hot knife through butter over the try line, for the best picks of Melbourne’s attacking dominance.
With Smith’s respective conversions, the Storm enjoyed a 22-point advantage with 18 minutes to go, and there could only be one winner from here. The Broncos’ morale looked zapped the next time Melbourne had its next set, with Hughes scoring his second try of the night after Munster and Papenhuyzen strung long passes together.
And with the Broncos’ Tevita Pangai Junior’s lack of discipline at kicking the ball after a whistle resulting in the prop getting sin-binned, Smith set Addo-Carr up for his second try of the night. With Smith’s conversion, the Storm were up by 32 points – and with nine minutes to play, the Broncos’ collective body language suggested they wanted the night to be over.
Smith then picked up a lazy ball from dummy half after a Storm miscue, then layed on for Faasuamaleaui to score his second try with five minutes to play. But by this time, it was a case of the Storm being able to affording to make the odd mistakes, and yet still capitalize from them.
While the match illustrated two teams moving in clearly divergent directions, the Storm looked to maintain its approach throughout the evening, despite its slow first-half start.
“We just looked to attack their back three all night. We just had better success with it after halftime,” Papenhuyzen told Fox League after the match.
Meanwhile, Seibold was left to rue his team’s inconsistent efforts for the whole of the match.
“We had a good first half – maybe our best since we came back from the COVID-19 break, and that’s what makes it so frustrating,” said Seibold.