The Melbourne Storm won its eighth NRL game in a row by making a statement against the Sydney Roosters, scoring two tries either side of halftime then withstanding long intervals of sustained threats to its defence to run out 24-6 winners at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Thursday night.
After the Storm’s late comeback in their Round 8 match against the Roosters produced a golden point victory in Brisbane on July 2, rugby league fans could be forgiven to expect more of the same. But as many movie afficionados may attest, sequels rarely exceed productions of the original, and Melbourne’s domination in this blockbuster ensured that their result was safe by the 50-minute mark.
The Storm were missing Cam Smith and Cameron Muster with recoveries from shoulder and knee injuries respectively over the last two weeks, and this match would turn out to be a bruising affair with casualties suffered on each side.
Melbourne received some late injury news after the game as winger Suliasi Vinuvalu broke his jaw late in the match, while Roosters coach Trent Robinson revealed that five-eighth Luke Keary broke a couple of ribs, as the most significant of his club’s injured players. The extended prognosis for each of those players was not immediately known.
The Storm opened up on top within the first five minutes. After Vinuvalu’s big leap to bring down Ryley Jacks’ arching fourth-tackle kick in the corner, Jahrome Hughes was set up nicely to bust through a line break and touch down with a full stretch. With Ryan Papenhuysen’s conversion, Melbourne took an early 6-0 lead.
Papenhuysen would increase the lead by two points with a penalty goal on the quarter-hour. The Storm were awarded a penalty from two Roosters that obstructed Melbourne stand-in captain Jesse Bromwich from defending properly, when Sydney lock Isaac Liu appeared to be off to the races.
Addo-Carr was quick of feet, hands and mind to set up the Storm’s second try 20 minutes in, dishing off to Papenhuysen when he appeared to have been tackled, and Papenhuysen was just as quick to find Justin Olam to finish the run down the left into the SCG’s night air. With Papenhuysen’s conversion, Melbourne went up 14-0, and were serving notice to the Roosters that they would just keep running and attacking.
In addition to their consistently poor starting field position and inability to make metres downfield, making matters worse for the Roosters was that every time they tried to build an attack through star fullback James Tedesco, he drew two and three Storm tacklers immediately and without fail, usually with Jacks and Brenko Lee collapsing onto him most often.
The Roosters spent a majority of the final four minutes of the half down in the Storm’s end, but despite Tedesco’s inspirations and aided and abetted by Liu and Matt Ikuvalu’s direct running, Melbourne’s commitment to holding their lines and closing up on the tackles remained strong enough to keep their clean sheet heading into the change rooms at the main break.
After the break, the Storm scored two quick tries that broke the match wide open within the first eight minutes.
Six minutes after the resumption of play, the Storm were gifted their third try. Given a fresh set from a Roosters miscue from a fifth-tackle kick, the Storm took advantage, going across the width of the field with Brandon Smith finding Olam for his second try of the night.
Moments later, Hughes made a stutter-step on a restart to set up his line break, and then dishing off to second-rower Felise Kafusi to finish off the last 25 metres on the run to score easily. Papenhuysen made amends for his failed conversion on Olam’s try to put the Storm up 24-0, and the rout was on.
The Roosters were denied a chance to break the Storm’s stronghold when Siosiua Taukeiaho was adjudged not to have pinned the ball down when crossing the try line – mainly due to having been surrounded by four Storm players to bring him down. Hughes, Kafusi and both Bromwich brothers, Jesse and Kenny, were instrumental in their combined team defence.
With a quarter-hour to go, the Roosters finally got on the board. Christian Tuipulotu scored the try on his NRL debut at the end of a three-man move, with Drew Hutchison’s looping swing pass onto the wing made perfect for Tuipulotu to catch in stride and cruise easily over the corner. With Taukeiaho’s conversion, Sydney cut Melbourne’s lead to 24-6.
Melbourne’s determination in defence held firm in the final 15 minutes after Tuipulotu’s try, and made sure no late comebacks would be on the cards for the night.
“We really manned up with some great efforts tonight – they gave us a great challenge, and we were equal to the challenge,” said Papenhuysen afterwards about his teammates’ defensive commitment.
“Everyone feels a bit more responsibility to pick up, and I was really pleased and impressed on how we managed to do that,” he added.
Papenhuysen also felt that the Storm’s attacking efforts were quite good, as well, in the opportunistic nature in which the tries were scored.
“In games like these, you need to make the most of your opportunities, and I think we did really well at that tonight,” he said.