The Melbourne Storm qualified for its tenth NRL grand final in its 22-year history – and fourth in the last five years – with relative ease, beating the Canberra Raiders 30-10 in the teams’ preliminary final at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Friday night.
Coach Craig Bellamy’s Storm racked up four tries in the match’s first 23 minutes and took advantage of an error-ridden Raiders side to make the win look easy.
And it was a win that would serve notice to Saturday night’s Penrith versus South Sydney, that even in a dominant season, the Storm may be starting to peak now.
“We wanted to start better than we have, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” Bellamy said after the match, as the Storm’s quick ten-minute opening burst was enough to propel them to victory.
The Storm’s first try came four minutes in, rolling the dice on the fifth tackle and just a couple of metres out, as Jesse Bromwich took Jahrome Hughes’ short pass down the middle and over the try line.
And that was just the start, as Melbourne went three tries clear within the match’s first ten minutes, with Ryan Papenhuyzen and Suliasi Vinuvalu each scoring in breakaway fashion within moments of each other to stake the Storm to a 16-0 lead.
Canberra, already under the pump on the scoreboard, also encountered difficulty finishing off their tackles, while their own attacks were thwarted by fierce tackling from the likes of Hughes, both Bromwich bothers, and Cam Smith, who made the Raiders pay further for their errors with a penalty goal on the quarter-hour that made amends for a missed conversion.
Seventeen minutes before halftime, a break which the Raiders were sorely needing to regroup, the Storm went up four tries to the good. Papenhuyzen, with a good head of steam on him on a fourth-tackle play, attempted a dribble-kick to his own advantage in order to score, but when Canberra winger Nick Cotric failed to clear the bounding ball, Justin Olam charged in and pinned the ball down easily.
“The first 20 minutes, we basically had all of the ball. And it was different from past weeks where we couldn’t dictate what we did with the ball,” said Bellamy.
“Our execution was out number one point, and we saying what we’re going to do and actually doing are two different things,” he added.
Cotric used a strong second effort to get the Raiders on the board with nine minutes to go before the intermission, hauling in George Williams’ kick and muscling and spinning his way through to pin down in the right-hand corner.
Going up 24-6 at halftime, Melbourne did so by executing a quality of what the best teams do: punishing opposition teams for their mistakes with a lethal efficiency.
Statistically, the Storm had advantages which defined their first-half opportunism:
Broke 21 tackles to the Raiders’ 11
Locked up on 91 percent of their tackles to the Raiders’ 84 percent
Cut down on their errors from past weeks, down to one, versus six for Canberra
Led 183-170 in post-contact metres
And led 700-537 in total metres gained
Individually, while Hughes had a hand in assisting directly on three of the Storm’s four tries, Papenhuyzen (82 metres gained) and Josh Addo-Carr (68) did the most damage when running at and through Raiders players, while Vinuvalu (21 post-contact metres) and Brenko Lee (19) were most effective at making Canberra pay for their poor tackling.
In addition to scoring often early, and taking advantage of the Raiders’ errors, the Storm also made sure that they won the field position battles, especially deep into their attacking half.
“We have a kicking plan on our sets coming into the game, what we work on during the week – where we want to finish our sets and where we want to put the ball and start our defensive sets,” said Cam Smith.