Shannon Meyer reviews yet another loss in Melbourne for the South Sydney Rabbitohs, but the golden point was a lot closer than it looked like it was going to be.
Melbourne Storm 15
Tries: Xavier Coates (10), Ryan Papenhuyzen (21), Cameron Munster (23)
Goal: Ryan Papenhuyzen (25)
1 Point Field Goal: Ryan Papenhuyzen (83)
South Sydney Rabbitohs 14
Tries: Alex Johnston (68), Jaxson Paulo (74), Campbell Graham (77)
2 Point Field Goal: Latrell Mitchell (79)
The stats were against the Rabbitohs, their record against the Storm is the worst of any current head-to-head, and they have never won in Melbourne, ever. But after a woeful performance last weekend in Brisbane, they had their superstar Latrell Mitchell returning from suspension.
It was a big night for the Melbourne Storm, given this was their first home game in their city since Round Eight last season.
The first early touch for Latrell Mitchell was met with boos but was an enthusiastic enough characteristic from the Rabbitohs fullback to suggest he was up for his return match. But it was Melbourne who by far the more dangerous team in the opening minutes if the game.
It took 11 minutes, but Melbourne opened the scoring with a try to Xavier Coates. The play was set up by another jinking run from the red hot Jahrome Hughes close to the line, which earned a set restart. The halfback was able to wrestle away from Damian Cook’s tackle and offloaded to Harry Grant who had the vision and bravery to kick across field on the zero tackle to a free Xavier Coates, who able to get the ball down without much trouble. The conversion missed, but the Storm were on their way.Embed from Getty Images
The Rabbitohs were given some good ball in good territory for a couple of sets after the Storm try, but Souths showed little in attack, and Cody Walker had some poor touches in both, the first set from a scrum stopped after Walker dropped the ball as he passed after the scrum. Walker was looking as off as he did in Brisbane last round, which was a worry.
A nicer moment around this time was the generous applause the Melbourne crowd gave for the recently passed local hero Shane Warne.
Just after the halfway mark of the second half the Storm had scored again. A few tackles later the ball went right through their superstar spine, and Xavier Coates found himself with space on the outside, after a prolonged burst down the sideline, the Storm winger found Ryan Papenhuyzen in support on the inside who scored with ease. Another missed conversion was the only thing keeping Souths in the game at this point.
It certainly wouldn’t be their middle defence. As just a few tackles into the set after the kick off Harry Grant darted off from dummy half, ran around and through the markers on the thirty metre line, then fifty metres later he drew the fullback and found Cameron Munster who scored with ease. Ryan Papenhuyzen took over the goal kicking and slotted the Storm’s first of the night.Embed from Getty Images
It’s not that Souths were completely hopeless in the first half. They were given some good opportunities and looked a little dangerous, but errors and poor last tackle options were killing their chances of getting back into the game. Which happened a few times before and after the Storm’s two try burst. At least Latrell Mitchell was getting more involved as the game wore on.
Melbourne deserved to be at least 14-0 up at half time, and it was hard to see the Rabbitohs breaking that Victorian curse. South Sydney needed Latrell Mitchell or Cody Walker to fire, meanwhile all the Storm’s superstars were already warmed up.
HALF-TIME: Melbourne Storm 14 South Sydney Rabbitohs 0Embed from Getty Images
Souths were under pressure almost straight away in the second half, with their twelfth error for the night coming on their first set, and the Storm were in control in defence. But the Rabbitohs at least looked enthusiastic at times, even if their plays were not dripping in quality. A perfect example was in the 50th minute as a try to the left was begging for Souths, yet poor execution blew the chance.
South Sydney was nearly punished with Melbourne’s next set. The Storm went to the blind side on the last play, where an unlikely chip kick from Kenny Bromwich was awkward and surprisingly perfect, landing just short of Latrell Mitchell who was unable to clean up the ball. A follow up Ryan Papenhuyzen soccer kick led to a try to Dean Ieremia but minutes later was taken off them by The Bunker,
That slice of luck for Souths was followed by another soon after as the Rabbitohs were handed a penalty close to the line and the advantage of thirteen players against twelve when Tepai Moeroa was sent to the Sin Bin for holding back Cameron Murray in support of a potential try. Souths were unable to take advantage with immediate back-to-back sets, spoiled by an intercept attempt and more poor handling of their own. Other attempts at taking advantage of the extra player ended in mediocrity.
While still a man down, Melbourne Storm almost extended their lead instead after more magic from Harry Grant and Cameron Munster, his grubber was met first by Justin Olam but not grounded cleanly.
After the teams traded errors as the game wound down, there was a brief flash of excitement with 11 minutes to go.
South Sydney posted their first try of the game, and it has a nice ring about it. They go to the left, Cody Walker throws a great pass, and resulting in Alex Johnston scoring in the corner. The missed sideline conversion made the score 14-4, but despite the momentum swinging towards the Rabbitohs, a full comeback seemed unlikely.
They were given plenty of chances to close the gap, having spent most of the time after their first try in Melbourne’s half. A second sin binning of the night for Melbourne, this time Justin Olam, gave Souths another one player advantage, and they took advantage this time with a try. And it sparked the game into life from the meandering slightly dull contest it had been since half time.
Souths went right this time for their scoring play, with Lachlan Ilias and Latrell Mitchell combining to then find Jaxson Paulo who scored with ease in the corner after being shifted from the centre to the wing. The missed conversion kept the gap at six points with five minutes or so to go.Embed from Getty Images
The Rabbitohs were really turning it up now, and should have scored with three minutes to go, but after some silky skills from Cody Walker, a simple error was made with line open. They challenged the decision and were rewarded with a penalty for an off the ball tackle.
Campbell Graham made amends with the next set by scoring the Rabbitoh’s third try of the game, and a unlikely comeback was on. Cody Walker and Latrell Mitchell were involved this time to the right, and the underrated Campbell Graham broke through the Storm defence to set up a conversion for Latrell Mitchell to level the scores. Sadly, for the Rabbitohs, Latrell’s third miss from three left them two points short.
With 90 seconds left, and Souths with all the momentum, an awkward kick off from the Storm went dead, and it appeared to be game over with a drop out to come. Souths went short, and it was short, travelling just five metres, but the ball was allowed to drop and it bounced the required five more metres and was nabbed by Souths halfback Ilias.
After getting the ball back against the odds, Souths made their way to the halfway line by throwing the ball around, Latrell Mitchell then nailed a 48-metre field goal, which gave South Sydney the points they needed to level the game. It was a monster kick from someone who simply backs themselves at the big moment, and this time it paid off for the Souths fullback.Embed from Getty Images
South Sydney even chanced their arm with the few seconds remaining to steal the game in regular time but fell short, just. The first Golden Point game of the season was here, an unlikely thought when Souths looked woeful 14-0 down with less than 50% completion rate.
Having got as far as they had against the odds by forcing Golden Point time, it was so disappointing that the first Souths attack of the extra time ended in
Handing over possession and a full set 40 metres was tempting fate for the Rabbitohs, and they were indeed punished before the next Melbourne set ended.
Ryan Papenhuyzen was the man to seal the game for Melbourne, initially stalling his field goal attempt from chasing Souths players, but then simply shifted left and attempted a drop kick on the run which sailed through the posts for the win.Embed from Getty Images
In the end, it was a bit of lucky escape for Melbourne who were well in control for three quarters of the match. Their spine in particular was outstanding, with good signs for the season ahead. But their incredible record over Souths continues.
For the Rabbitohs it was an exciting ending and got much closer than anyone would have expected at the 60th minute. But the golden point loss shouldn’t gloss over the issues, the main one being where the 2021 Cody Walker has gone. Cameron Murray was outstanding as ever on his return, and Latrell Mitchell really grew into the game in good signs for some improvement in the Rabbitoh’s fortunes in the very near future.
FULL-TIME: Melbourne Storm 15 South Sydney Rabbitohs 14
PLAYER OF THE YEAR POINTSEmbed from Getty Images
3 pts – Harry Grant (Storm), 2 pts – Jahrome Hughes (Storm), 1 pt – Cameron Murray (Rabbitohs)
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