After four days of controversy, if the Melbourne Storm players were blue, they certainly did not exhibit those feelings tonight in Melbourne against the New Zealand Warriors.
In front of 23906 hollering fans, the Storm put up a tremendous display of attacking rugby league, to demolish a lacklustre Warriors outfit 40-6. Their 51st minute try to Willie Isa was the epitome of try scoring grandeur. Running the ball on the last tackle, they used quick hands to get the ball to Matt Duffie, who ran forty metres before offloading to Isa on the inside. This is rugby league as it should be played.
And, on debut, Duffie became Australasia’s man of the plural, scoring two tries. Under pressure of the emotional stress that has inflicted the Storm this week, it was confirmation of a fine young talent to operate at the level he did for the full eighty minutes. And scoring tries is a string to your bow that a winger must possess. Keep this up and he will continue to climb the rungs on the ladder to NRL success.
Many were waiting for this match in eager anticipation of how the Storm would handle the week’s events. Turns out that it impelled them onto a stupendous level of achievement. They could have turned up on the day believing they had nothing to play for and put in a limp effort. But this lot are better than that. Their emotional and mental fortitude was on display for all to see. While some of their administrators have shamed themselves, the players and coaching staff have done themselves proud on what would have been one of the toughest nights of their rugby league careers.
It could have turned ugly for them, though, as the Warriors in the first ten minutes came out and physically dominated. Their defence was a symphony of organised brutality. Often with four men in the tackle, prop Sam Rapira took it upon himself to indulge his inner enforcer with some crunching hits.
Despite this Melbourne hung tough and weathered the initial storm, the symphony starting to hit more than a few sour notes forcing the Warriors into repeated errors and henceforth from the 16th minute onwards, the Melbourne side took it upon themselves to redecorate the Warriors in-goal area with a plethora of try scoring feats. Redecoration of the opposition in-goal becomes them too. There were many visitors to this part of the landscape. It was Cameron Smith who put his touch to proceedings in the 16th minute when he ran from dummy-half, carrying three defenders with him to score ten metres wide of the right upright. Liking to participate in as much as is possible, Smith converted his own try to give his side a 6-0 lead.
It seems rumours abounded throughout his teammates of the delacies of the opposition in-goal zone, as they rattled up another three tries in the first half, the best of which came in the 36th minute, as Brett Finch stepped off his left foot to bust the opposition line wide open before he offloaded to Ryan Tandy to run twenty metres to score under the crossbar.
While the Warriors completion rate in the second half did improve dramatically on their first half effort, like the first half they did not look like getting over the Storms goal line. Instead Melbourne players continued to take more than just a passing fancy to their opposition’s in-goal area. Duffie was at it again in the 48th minute after Cooper Cronk surprised the Warriors by running on the last tackle and passing on the inside to Billy Slater who then floated a pass out wide to Duffie to score in the right corner. Smith converted with a fine goal from near the sideline, you can be sure of that.
With Isa’s 51st minute try and a marvellous effort from Billy Slater to force the ball from a Cronk grubber kick in the 67th minute, Melbourne had the game well and truly sealed up.’
The Warriors did score a consolation try to Ukuma Ta’ai late in the game, but the last ten minutes were more significant for a number of high tackles, as frustration got the better of some Warriors players. James Maloney may have a case to answer at the judiciary for a high shot on Cronk as will Melbourne’s Brett White for a raised forearm on Warrior’s Captain Michael Luck as Luck was trying to tackle White.
Warrior’s Coach Ivan Cleary has got problems not of an incremental proportion. For the second week in a row, his team has put in a substandard display. He will desperately be hoping to get some of his star players back into functioning form. He is badly missing Steve Price and Simon Mannering for their leadership skills, Manu Vatuvei for his impact and Brett Seymour for his ability to organise the team at halfback. They looked rudderless on attack and the return of Seymour can’t come soon enough.
That wasn’t the real story to come out of tonight’s match though. What was highlighted was the courage in the face of adversity that the Melbourne playing staff revealed.