Shannon Meyer reviews the Storm ending Newcastle’s unbeaten run in 2020 with a hard-fought win on the Central Coast.
|3rd||Try Ryley Jacks (Storm)||Melbourne 4-0|
|4th||Goal Cameron Smith (Storm)||Melbourne 6-0|
|24th||Try Suliasi Vunivalu (Storm)||Melbourne 10-0|
|25th||Goal Cameron Smith (Storm)||Melbourne 12-0|
|34th||Try Tino Faasuamaleaui (Storm)||Melbourne 16-0|
|35th||Goal Cameron Smith (Storm)||Melbourne 18-0|
|40th||Penalty Goal Kalyn Ponga (Knights)||Melbourne 18-2|
|53rd||Try Bradman Best (Knights)||Melbourne 18-6|
|60th||Try Edrick Lee (Knights)||Melbourne 18-10|
|62nd||Goal Kalyn Ponga (Knights)||Melbourne 18-12|
|74th||Penalty Goal Cameron Smith (Storm)||Melbourne 20-12|
|76th||Try Brandon Smith (Storm)||Melbourne 24-12|
|77th||Goal Cameron Smith (Storm)||Melbourne 26-12|
Newcastle came into the match as one of two unbeaten teams left in 2020, and with some confidence after defeating the Storm-conquering Canberra Raiders the previous week.
The biggest team news coming into the game was Ryley Jacks in for Jahrome Hughes at halfback, but a noticeable tweak to the starting sides was Brandon Smith coming into the run on side at prop: the Kiwi international getting the extended run he deserves.
Ryley Jacks made an immediate impact in his first game for the Storm since 2018 by opening the scoring in the third minute. Although it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time after an exchange of quick hands to the Storm’s left saw a neat grubber kick from Josh Addo-Carr under pressure, finding Jacks after a casual chase from the Knights, especially Herman Ese’ese.
It was all Melbourne for a period after that, as they hammered the Knights’ line with set after set; but not for the first time in 2020, and especially since the NRL returned in round three, the Storm were unable to turn the repeated sets into points.
After surviving the onslaught of Melbourne’s attack, the Knights had their turn at pressuring the Storm’s line. They needed something special to break one of the NRL’s best defensive teams, and nearly got it through Kalyn Ponga’s charge to the line around the 20th minute, but his opposite number Ryan Papenhuyzen produced a super try-saving tackle.
A few errors gave Melbourne important ball and territory. Eventually this led to their second try in the 24th minute when Cameron Smith, who has some night out against the Knights, threw a cut out pass from dummy half that bypassed three Storm players into the waiting arms of Suliasi Vanivalu.
The Storm winger made pretty light work on Edrick Lee’s attempt to stop him one-on-one 10 metres out and scored in the corner. A sideline conversion producing a nice cherry for Smith who created the try.
Melbourne extended their lead ten minutes later, as they took advantage of a six again set restart offered by the Knights; boom forward Tino Faasuamaleaui ran onto another sharp Cameron Smith pass from dummy half about 10 metres and scored beside the posts. The conversion made it 18-0.
Newcastle didn’t end the half scoreless though, as Ponga slotted a penalty in the 40th minute; although one could argue that a game-changing 10 minute sin bin stint could have been awarded against Felise Kaufusi after multiple Storm penalties in a short space of time as half time loomed. The penalty made it 18-2 to the Storm.
A relatively quiet start to the second half saw the game go from end-to-end without much action, but Suliasi Vunivalu livened things up with a couple of errors within a few minutes of each other. One was from a fifth tackle kick that he got away with, but his drop on a first tackle hit up was punished: a few tackles later a perfect grubber by Kurt Mann was dived on by Bradman Best who continued his try scoring feats, although the put down was a little debatable.
It was game on seven minutes later, as Newcastle took advantage of a repeat set and Edrick Lee scored in the left corner after the speed of a darting Ponga, down the blind side from 10 metres, combined with quick hands from Best found Lee, who scored despite the collision with Papenhuyzen which left both sore and sorry for a while. Ponga, whose influence on the game was growing by the minute at this stage, nailed the sideline conversion; with 22 minutes to go, the Knights trailed by 18-12 but had the momentum.
Newcastle couldn’t quite maintain the pressure though, and eventually the Storm got the upper hand. They were deep into Newcastle territory when they were awarded a contentious penalty in the 74th minute, as the Knights were penalised for an off-the-ball hit on Dale Finucane on the fifth tackle, well after an underwhelming cross-field kick was fielded by Newcastle. Instead of having a fresh set of six to narrow the deficit, the Knights fell behind by the spirit-breaking eight points with six minutes to play.
Melbourne put the icing on the cake with three minutes to go, as the other Smith – Brandon – somehow burrowed his way through three Newcastle defenders to put the ball down from a few metres out to wrap up the game nicely.
It was Melbourne’s best performance since the resumption of the NRL, but Newcastle wouldn’t have lost many admirers, despite losing their unbeaten start. They just gave the Storm too big a lead at half time. Both teams should be looking at finals football as a minimum for 2020, and a repeat match in knockout football would be welcome.
Given his length of service, you could forgive Cameron Smith for dropping off slightly as his career nears its end, but as champions usually do, they remind you of their remaining powers. Smith was excellent on Saturday night and led the Storm from the front. He threw the last pass for two first half tries, was sharp from dummy half, made a mountain of tackles as per usual, and as ever provided his commentary to assist the solo referee. He has many players fighting him for the crown as the NRL’s best hooker, even from within his own side; but his night out on the Central Coast proved he, and Melbourne, have plenty left.
Newcastle Knights: 1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Edrick Lee 3. Enari Tuala 4. Bradman Best 5. Hymel Hunt 6. Kurt Mann 7. Mitchell Pearce 8. David Klemmer 9. Andrew McCullough 10. Daniel Saifiti 11. Aidan Guerra 12. Sione Mata’utia 13. Herman Ese’ese. Interchange: 14. Tex Hoy 15. Jacob Saifiti 16. Tim Glasby 17. Brodie Jones.
Melbourne Storm: 1. Ryan Papenhuyzen 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 3. Justin Olam 4. Brenko Lee 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Cameron Munster 7. Ryley Jacks 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Cameron Smith 14. Brandon Smith 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Kenneath Bromwich 13. Dale Finucane. Interchange: 10. Christian Welch 15. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui 17. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 18. Tom Eisenhuth.