MELBOURNE finally hit top form and sent an ominous warning to the rest of the competition with a dazzling 46-6 thrashing of Canberra at Olympic Park.
The Storm scored five second-half tries in a performance reminiscent of their premiership year of 2007, with fullback Billy Slater and back-rower Ryan Hoffman among a number of standouts.
Despite trailing 6-0 early thanks to a Joel Monaghan leap, Melbourne quickly gained control and the manner in which they opened their account spelt danger as Cooper Cronk’s neat chip was swooped upon by Slater alongside the posts.
Two more tries to Greg Inglis and Jeff Lima saw Melbourne take an 18-6 lead to the break but it was their second-half performance that was most impressive.
Forty-nine minutes in, Slater scored a classic as he steamed onto a pass in his own half and raced 70 metres untouched, his last-minute step past Marc Herbert leaving three Raiders players sprawled in a heap on the ground.
Slater then sent Steve Turner away down the right side before Matthew Cross added one of his own with a barnstorming 30-metre run.
It was just the tonic Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy needed with the State of Origin period looming but, ironically, the form of the Queensland backs he will coach against must also have him wondering how he will possibly end three years of Maroons dominance.
The Game Swung When… Billy Slater scored his first try of the match to level the scores in the 10th minute. Melbourne are always hard to beat at home and the Raiders needed a good start, but after scoring early they barely sighted the in-goal again and Slater’s try suggested that the Storm were indeed ready to play.
Who Was Hot… It was impossible to find a poor Melbourne performer but none were better than Billy Slater, who tore Canberra apart, while back-rower Ryan Hoffman was also impressive – breaking through to set up Greg Inglis in the first half and doing it again for his own in the second.
Cooper Cronk, Jeff Lima and Adam Blair also performed well.
Who Was Not… The Raiders offered little in attack on the back of a forward pack that was dominated and a backline that rarely saw the football.
Five-eighth Terry Campese struggled to make an impact while half Marc Herbert showed his inexperience with some poor options in the first half.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Billy Slater’s second try nine minutes into the second half was one for the highlight reels.
After Canberra chipped over the top, Greg Inglis picked up the scraps and scooped the ball up to a flying Slater who sliced straight through, raced 70 metres up-field and then stepped past Herbert at the last minute, leaving the Raiders’ half in a tangled mess on the ground with Joel Monaghan and Justin Carney.
Refs Watch… A solid performance by Tony Archer and Brett Suttor with the pair barely featuring in the match.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Billy Slater (Storm): Scored two tries, set up two more, made two line breaks and ran for a total of 181 metres; 2 points – Ryan Hoffman (Storm): Too much for the Raiders to handle with two line breaks, a try and 132 metres to his name; 1 point – Cooper Cronk (Storm): Controlled the game with his organisation and pinpoint kicking and passing games.
Storm 46 (B Slater 2, G Inglis, J Lima, S Turner, M Cross, A Blair, R Hoffman tries; C Smith 6, J Tomane goals) def Raiders 6 (J Monaghan try; T Campese goal) at Olympic Park. Crowd: 10,112.