The Melbourne Storm won a thrilling Thursday night footy shootout, beating the St George-Illawarra Dragons 52-30 at Melbourne’s AAMI Park. The win puts the Storm (second) two points behind the Dragons.
Prior to the game, young Storm winger Justin Olam was ruled out through injury, causing a reshuffle of the backline, with Jahrome Hughes moving to fullback, Young Tonumaipea moving to the wing, and Brodie Croft starting at halfback.
The game started on a sour note when Dragons back rower Jacob Host dislocated his shoulder after four minutes. This forced veteran Jason Nightingale to come off the bench and play out of position in the back row for the remainder of the game. The rest of the first half was a see-sawing affair, with both sides quickly trading tries.
The Dragons pushed ahead 18-16 just before halftime, after centre Euan Aitken stole the ball from Storm halfback Brodie Croft in a one-on-one tackle and crashed over for a crucial try.
The Storm had time to answer back. In the last set of six in the first half, they spread the ball wide to back rower Ryan Hoffman, who made a line break 40 metres out from the Dragons’ line. He threw a dummy to beat fullback Matt Dufty, and scored a huge individual try after the halftime siren had sounded, giving the Storm a 22-18 lead.
The Storm kicked a penalty goal after two minutes in the second half to extend the lead to six points. Both teams traded quick tries for the next 20 minutes, with neither team able to extend their lead beyond six points.
At the 60 minute mark, the Dragons appeared to have taken the upper hand after Dufty used his speed off the back of a scrum to set up winger Kurt Mann for his second try of the night, putting the Dragons in front 30-28. The Storm answered, with Hughes scoring a long distance try after making a line break off an inside pass from halfback Brodie Croft.
This appeared to be the last straw for the Dragons, as the Storm were able to spread the ball quickly off the kickoff, and score another long distance try through centre Cheyse Blair to lead 40-30, the largest lead of the game. In the final 10 minutes, the Dragons’ fatigue set in, as the Storm ran in another two quick tries to win 52-30.
POINTS GALORE IN WILD MELBOURNE SHOOTOUT
No one was expecting to see a high-scoring shootout between two of the better defensive teams in the competition. The majority of the game was dominated by great attack from both sides, and the Storm were only able to get away from the Dragons in the last 15 minutes, with 14 tries and 82 points scored, easily the most points scored in a single game this year.
DEPLETED FORWARD PACK COSTS DRAGONS DEARLY
The loss of four of their Origin forwards in Tyson Frizell, Jack De Belin, Tariq Sims and Paul Vaughan had a big effect on the Dragons, especially towards the end of the game when they conceded four tries in the final 15 minutes. Include the loss of Host after four minutes, and Nightingale playing nearly 80 minutes in the back row, and it’s easy to see why the Dragons ran out of gas in the final stages.
STORM YOUNG GUNS THRIVE IN SPOTLIGHT
Without their Origin players, the young spine of fullback Jahrome Hughes, five-eighth Ryley Jacks and halfback Brodie Croft all played significant roles in the Storm’s scintillating attack. All three were able to score tries, and they all played a hand in at least one other, proving to coach Craig Bellamy they will be ready to step into the top 17 when called upon, and showing the rest of the NRL the Storm have a lot of depth.
SMITH MASTERCLASS OUTSHINES CLASSY WIDDOP
With both sides depleted, the most important match-up of the game was going to be the two captains – Cameron Smith and Gareth Widdop – and how well they could manage the flow of the game. Widdop set up a few tries with some classy touches, and looked extremely confident kicking goals, converting five from five (mostly from the sideline). Smith, the masterclass in game management, proved far too good. He was heavily involved in the Storm’s attack, and looked in control for most of the game. He seemed to be able to create linebreaks and try scoring opportunities at will. His influence on the young players was a big factor in them gelling for the full 80 minutes and playing some of the best attacking football we have seen from the Storm this year.
MELBOURNE STORM 52
Tries: Cheyse Blair 2, Curtis Scott, Brodie Croft, Ryan Hoffman, Young Tonumaipea, Jahrome Hughes, Ryley Jacks, Suliasi Vunivalu
Goals: Cameron Smith 7/9
Drop Goals: n/a
ST GEORGE-ILLAWARRA DRAGONS 30
Tries: Kurt Mann 2, Nene Macdonald, Euan Aitken, Luciano Leilua
Goals: Gareth Widdop 5/5
Drop Goals: n/a
MELBOURNE STORM: 7 Jahrome Hughes, 2 Suliasi Vunivalu, 3 Cheyse Blair, 4 Curtis Scott, 1 Young Tonumaipea, 6 Ryley Jacks, 17 Brodie Croft, 8 Christian Welch, 9 Cameron Smith (c), 10 Nelson Asofa-Solomona, 11 Joe Stimson, 12 Ryan Hoffman, 13 Kenny Bromwich Interchange: 14 Brandon Smith, 15 Tui Kamikamica, 16 Patrick Kaufusi, 20 Albert Vete
ST GEORGE-ILLAWARRA DRAGONS: 1 Matthew Dufty, 2 Nene Macdonald, 3 Euan Aitken, 4 Timoteo Lafai, 5 Kurt Mann, 6 Gareth Widdop (c), 7 Darren Nicholls, 8 James Graham, 9 Cameron McInnes, 10 Leeson Ah Mau, 11 Jacob Host, 12 Luciano Leilua, 13 Blake Lawrie Interchange: 14 Jeremy Latimore, 15 Jason Nightingale, 16 Hame Sele, 17 Reece Robson