Shannon Meyer reviews the 2021 season opener at AAMI Park ….. Here’s how the game went.
Tries: Ryan Papenhuyzen (16, 29), Cameron Munster (2), Justin Olam (9)
Goals: Ryan Papenhuyzen (4, 10, 18, 47 (pen), 60 (pen)
Tries: Alex Johnston (32, 42), Latrell Mitchell (55)
Goals: Adam Reynolds (34, 45, 56)
Player of the Year PointsEmbed from Getty Images
3 pts – Ryan Papenhuyzen (Storm)
2 pts – Cameron Munster (Storm)
1 pt – Latrell Mitchell (Rabbitohs)
MATCH REPORTEmbed from Getty Images
Souths had a lot of history and statistics against them beating Melbourne in the season opener: not only the fact that they are up against the team that won the 2020 NRL Premiership, but this fixture is the most lopsided in NRL history from 1998, and they have never won in Melbourne.
Melbourne started off almost perfectly, gaining 60 metres in just the first three tackles of the game, and the first kick of the game, leaving Souths a metre from their line. No Cam Smith, no worries early. And it wasn’t long before they were in front and leading the Rabbitohs yet again in Melbourne.
After good pressure early, Melbourne got a Set Restart 10 metres out; the ball went left to Cameron Munster who threw a dummy to the inside fullback and broke through a reasonably feeble Souths defensive line to score the opening try of the 2021 season. Business as usual – Melbourne doing it easy, Souths behind to the Storm in Melbourne.
Seven minutes in and we saw the first tap restart from a kick that found touch, one of the new innovations for the new season.
Three minutes later, Melbourne spread the ball on their own 10 metre line with more reckless abandon than you would expect, but you can do that when you have Josh Addo-Carr, who put the afterburners on down the left. He ran for a good 50 metres before finding Jahrome Hughes with an infield chip. Despite Hughes being tackled, the Storm continued left and Papenhuyzen passed inside for Olam and the PNG international made it try number two; with an easy conversion the Storm led 12-0 in as many minutes.
A kick out on the full gave Souths some decent territory and they started to look a little more lively in attack. The attacking raid ended with Munster cleaning up a grubber and getting a Rabbitohs knee to the back as a reward. A knock on at the next attacking set gave the impression that Souths weren’t going to outscore the Storm.
The Storm punished the error on the next set with their third try of the match as Munster went left to Papenhuyzen on the 30 metre line, and then onto Kenny Bromwich who broke through the Souths line, drew the fullback and found Papenhuyzen supporting on the inside for his first try of the night, after providing the try assist for the previous one.
The Melbourne fullback was on fire tonight, and Melbourne were still maintaining their point-a-minute start to 2021 at 18-0.
Another attacking set, another simple error: Souths weren’t learning, and Melbourne’s almost perfect rugby league continued. The Rabbitohs must have felt it was a long time to the break.
A slice of luck for Souths as a poor last tackle grubber turned out to be a Melbourne error, and they had the ball 10 metres out and a full set to play with, followed by a penalty for a reset. It all made no difference as Rabbitohs newcomer Josh Mansour spilled the ball on the second tackle: a chance lost. And they didn’t help themselves with a forward pass on their 10 metre line in their next attacking phase.
Once again Souths were punished as Papenhuyzen produced more magic. The Storm went right and it looked like the set was going to fizzle out, but then the Storm fullback zoomed towards the corner from a standing start on an angled run and timed the dive to perfection despite decent cover from Latrell Mitchell. Melbourne were in front 22-0 and Papenhuyzen was the star.
Souths opened their scoring not long after as Alex Johnston finished off a slick left passing movement through Damien Cook, Cody Walker and a fine Mitchell pass; the Souths winger finishing off well at his first opportunity. This was after Souths got a little lucky after receiving a penalty after dropping the ball in attack on the Melbourne line.
An early tackle kick from Munster didn’t quite work out not long after, but Melbourne were showing some real innovation.
HALF-TIME: Melbourne Storm 22 South Sydney Rabbitohs 6Embed from Getty Images
To be any chance to in this match, South Sydney needed to hold onto the ball more in the second half and score first; and they did both early in the second half. Melbourne made a rare early tackle error, which handed Souths an excellent opportunity to open the second half scoring, which they did through Alex Johnston’s second try of the night.
The Souths winger benefitted from Benji Marshall going left to Walker, who threw a bullet-like cut out pass to Johnston who finished off well again. The sideline conversion reduced the gap to 10 points as early as they would have liked. Marshall certainly didn’t look out of place despite what his previous employer had thought.
Melbourne extended the lead back to 12 points a minute later with Papenhuyzen slotting a penalty goal after Souths spilled the ball early in the first set after their try.
There was a bizarre moment in the 55th minute with Justin Olam provided some light relief, as the PNG International appeared to knock the ball on but was ruled knock back by the referee. The ref’s ruling seemed to be missed by Olam, who simply left the ball on the ground and walked away.
The brain fade was punished in the Rabbitohs’ next set as Mitchell continued his fine game for Souths with a powerful run to the corner for their third try. Like the previous try, the ball went left through Marshall and Walker, this time the ball going in behind to the Souths fullback. Adam Reynolds made it three-from-three from the left sideline and the gap was just six points with more than 20 minutes to play.
A key decision was made by the referee in the 60th minute as Dane Gagai was ruled to have performed a late tackle at the legs of Jahrome Hughes after a fifth tackle kick. It was a gift for the Storm, who extended the lead to eight points just as Souths were looking dangerous.
Souths were starting to get on top in the next 10-minute period but weren’t able to take advantage as errors and a bit of niggle crept into the game. A key mistake by Mitchell from a bomb gave Melbourne all the ball and territory they needed to extend the lead, but were not punished this time like they may have in the first half.
As the game headed into the final minutes, Thomas Burgess left the field on a stretcher after making a tackle, appearing to hold his neck/shoulder as he went to ground.
Souths tried hard in the final minutes, and they played with some adventure, but their last promising attacking set ended in an error, which summed up the Rabbitohs’ night in attack a little.
In the end, the statistics heading into the match didn’t lie, with Melbourne continuing their dominance over the Rabbitohs, and in Melbourne, and for the opening weekend in general. Souths could have played better, and with fewer errors could have broken their Victorian hoodoo. They did keep the Storm tryless in the second half though.
Melbourne were nowhere as good in the second half as the opening 40 minutes, but that opening session – and the form of Papenhuyzen and Munster – suggests they will be as strong as ever in 2021. And Harry Grant is yet to play.
FULL-TIME: Melbourne Storm 26 South Sydney Rabbitohs 18
Thomas Burgess (Rabbitohs) – shoulder – to be monitored.
Match Review Committee