The Melbourne Storm’s recent trend of second-half onslaughts against the Manly Sea Eagles continued, scoring three tries to none after halftime to help seal a 30-6 win at the Sunshine Coast Stadium on Sunday.
Coach Craig Bellamy’s Storm, in enhancing its second-place status on the NRL ladder, has now racked up a 68-0 scoring advantage over Manly after halftime in the teams’ last five head-to-head matches, as Melbourne have now won five of its last seven matches against the Sea Eagles.
Three tries to Justin Olam and two others to Josh Addo-Carr formed the hallmarks of this latest conquest as Melbourne masterfully applied edges in speed on the outside from those try scorers as well as powerful inside running from a host of other players to make the win look easy.
“Our control in the first half was really good in the first half, and that was a positive,” said Bellamy.
“But we also finished off the match very well after halftime. Our commitment and execution was absolutely amazing,” he added.
Ten days after being shut out 14-0 by Parramatta, Bellamy rang in seven changes to his side – Cam Smith, Cameron Munster, Jahrome Hughes and Jesse Bromwich being the most significant and most welcome names among the recalls.
But Bellamy praised all of his team’s inclusions, role players and superstars alike.
“Our players who came in, after not having played for a while, played tremendously well, considering we don’t have any Queensland Cup matches to trot them out for. It’s just been training for our guys, and they have responded very well,” said Bellamy.
Olam nabbed the opening try for Melbourne, to justify the Storm’s slight edge in advantage in possession within the match’s opening 12 minutes. The scoring play was an outstanding four-man move from the Storm, after being awarded a pair of fresh set restarts, with Smith and Bromwich drawing defenders in, and Munster providing the pump-fake to make Manly’s defenders to over-commit, before Olam punched the ball over the try line.
And just as the Storm were getting settled in following Smith’s conversion, Manly hit back quickly when Addin Fonua-Blake charged across the try line from a linebreak, and Reuben Garrick levelled matters with the successful conversion.
The Storm’s wing play, combined with the legendary dead-eye accuracy of Smith’s long-kicking skills, put them back in front on 22 minutes, as Addo-Carr sped easily behind the Sea Eagles’ defence to touch the ball just over the try line.
Smith’s accuracy let him down on the conversion, but the scoring play sent a message to Manly’s challenge that Addo-Carr’s speed down the flank would become an unstoppable weapon, and the winger was unlucky, if not for the fickle bounce of the ball from a Munster long kick, not to have had two tries in a matter of minutes.
But Melbourne would not be denied for that third try – but this time, by contrast to Addo-Carr’s world-class speed, it was the brute running force of Nelson Asofa-Solomona plowing over Sea Eagles defenders on 25 minutes. However, Smith missed his second consecutive conversion, and the Storm led 14-6.
As the Storm’s dominance in attack and possession being well-established, Manly won a moral victory in the run-up to halftime by not allowing Melbourne to rack up a fourth try that would have demoralised them and put the game out of reach in the process. The Storm’s running of Bromwich, Ryan Papenhuysen and debutant Isaac Lumelume, along with Addo-Carr’s speed and the playmaking of Smith and Munster, were running the Sea Eagles’ attempts at resistance ragged over the first 40 minutes, and the Storm were unlucky not to have gone into the shed ahead by a greater margin.
However, Bellamy saw it differently, praising his team’s defensive structure.
“To hold Manly to six points at halftime was a big positive, especially in how they ran at us,” he said.
But within the opening five minutes after the break, Manly – playing like a Sunday pub league team well into their third keg of cheap beer – were their own villains when within range to reduce arrears. First Cade Cust erred on an otherwise sensational Daly Cherry-Evans long kick, then Jorge Taufua left the ball on the turf on a first play to gift Melbourne possession.
And the Storm would make Manly pay for their profligacy two minutes later, with brilliant, quick ball movement among six players ending with Addo-Carr finding Olam inboard from the corner for his second try of the match, extending the Storm’s lead to 12 points after Smith missed the conversion.
Olam would complete his hat-trick – the second of his NRL career, both coming against the Sea Eagles – at the end of a four-man move whose deadly mark was made with sheer speed down the left-hand flank. Addo-Carr and Papenhuysen matching their own quick feet with fast hands in their passes allowed Olam the freedom to finish from in close, and Smith nailed the conversion to put the Storm up 24-6.
Manly’s afternoon was summed up in the final minute when Cherry-Evans – attempting to kill the game off by kicking the ball through the Storm’s defence – booted the ball straight into the guts of Munster, who quickly dished off to Addo-Carr, and it was off to the races again as he scored his second try of the match for Melbourne’s final 30-6 winning margin.
“This game was about possession,” said Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler afterwards, “and we didn’t accomplish it. We needed to be better with the ball, and we weren’t able to do that.”