The Melbourne Storm continued their impressive streak of Round 1 victories dating back to 2002 with an 18-16 win over the St George Illawarra Dragons. The match was a less than stellar affair with momentum shifts and poor discipline, a 9-4 penalty count in favour of the Storm playing a role in the ultimate outcome.
Storm play it risky by playing safe
With respect to the Dragons the closeness of the scoreline flatters them a little. After racing out to a 10-0 lead in the first 15 minutes and completing 9/9 sets all the momentum switched to the Storm from there. The lethargic energy levels they started the game with were boosted and they hit back with two tries of their own in the space of 8 minutes. When later presented with a penalty on the Dragons goal-line at the 35 minute mark though the Storm opted to kick for goal to level the scores despite the wealth of possession they had and momentum in their favour. The immediate set after, another penalty in the Dragons 20 gave the Storm a chance to try and push their lead out to a converted try but declined it in favour of a second penalty goal.
Considering the game finished at three tries all and a missed conversion from Gareth Widdop was all that separated the two teams they did make the right decision to an extent but the Storm could have potentially avoided letting the game get so close.
Dragons Positional Worries
The new look Dragons backline had a fairly average day at the office. The right side centre/wing combo of Josh Dugan and Euan Aitken struggled defensively. Dugan played centre in attack but defended on the wing for most of the game and was caught out of position multiple times, leading to two tries from Korobiete. At the back, Kurt Mann showed off some decent ball-playing skills and support play, sending a cut-out pass to Jason Nightingale to set up the first try of the game and made a line break off an inside-out play. On the other hand he was a bit shaky under the high ball, dropping one bomb that led to a try in the following set.
It’s too early to suggest a re-shuffle will be made after one round but a lot of work will need to be done in the next few weeks to make the positional switches into a success.
Russell Packer ends NRL exile
Having not played in the NRL since 2013, Russell Packer made a successful return to first grade and put in a solid performance for the Dragons, carrying the ball for 126m and making 24 tackles for no misses. He’ll certainly be embracing the opportunity the Dragons have given him at a second shot in the NRL and will be a key factor in their forwards as the year goes on and his match fitness improves.
Slater on-song in comeback
Another player returning from a lengthy absence was Billy Slater who was last seen in Round 10 2015. Taking no time to re-adjust, Slater was responsible for setting up two tries, relentless in his kick chase pressure and showed no signs that his shoulder injury hampered him in anyway.
It wasn’t a return performance that would have gotten complete top marks as he made two errors and gave away two penalties, one right on the stroke of half-time which if Widdop had converted the goal would have meant the game would have been locked up at 80 minutes. In the end anything he did right outweighed what he did wrong and the Melbourne Storm will gladly welcome a fit and firing Slater back into the fold.
IN THE SHEDS
St George Illawarra Dragons
Joel Thompson- Thompson was a last-minute withdrawal pre-game for the Dragons with a cork but should be right to go for next week.
Melbourne Storm- 18
Tries: Marika Korobiete (18m, 26m), Kenny Bromwich (46m)
Goals: Cameron Smith 3/5
St George Illawarra Dragons-16
Tries: Jason Nightingale (6m), Benji Marshall (15m), Tyson Frizell (56m)
Goals: Gareth Widdop 2/4