MELBOURNE’S victory at Members Equity Stadium in Perth was a delight to watch. It was one of the more entertaining games of 2009, and Souths were desperately unlucky not to snap their two-match losing streak – after they led for much of the 80 minutes.
But the greater context of this match was the exposure it gave rugby league in Western Australia. There was an impressive and vibrant crowd of 15,197 in attendance and they were exhibited an open and fast game of football.
The enthusiasm shown by the fans was enough to suggest the NRL could one day look at readmitting a Perth-based team in a nation-wide competition.
On the field and the Storm looked off their game, but that was mainly due to Souths coming out with much enthusiasm and aggression in the opening half.
The Bunnies, who have been heavily criticised for their performances in recent weeks, took it to Melbourne early and scored two tries through winger Jamie Simpson to take a 10-0 lead.
However, while they weren’t at their devastating best, Melbourne showed one of their best qualities – and that is their ability to grind out a win. They fought hard and came over the top of South Sydney like the ultimate professionals they are.
It was a great match-up in the forwards with both teams boasting some strong performances up front.
The difference was perhaps an extra touch of class in the backline. The composure of Cooper Cronk at halfback and the sheer power of Greg Inglis out wide were two facets of the game where the Rabbitohs couldn’t compete.
Souths dominated field position with 56 per cent of the ball, but defence let them down. Melbourne broke the line nine times.
The Game Swung When… There was nothing between the two teams for the majority of the contest so a set of six with just over six minutes to go proved crucial.
Melbourne were leading by two points when Cameron Smith kicked from Souths’ 40-metre line deep into their territory. They pinned the red and greens back on their own line, and a bumbling set saw Chris Sandow having to kick from just 20 metres out. Storm fullback Billy Slater caught the ball on the full and Melbourne automatically had much-needed field position.
The two-and-fro nature of the game meant Souths were far from out of it, but field position at this stage of the game provided the killer blow. A precise pass from Storm five-eighth Brett Finch found Greg Inglis, who summed up the situation beautifully and popped a pass for Joseph Tomane to score in the corner. That try virtually wrapped up the game for Melbourne.
Who Was Hot…We’ve seen what Israel Folau can do, but is Greg Inglis the most impressive athlete in the game today? He certainly gave West Australian fans reason to believe that with a superlative performance out wide for the Storm.
Inglis came up with a try assist, 11 tackle breaks, three line breaks and a try in what was a powerful performance. His first try in the 23rd minute came off a beautiful Ryan Hoffman offload, but Inglis still had plenty of work to do and managed to steamroll a couple of Souths defenders to score.
In the second half Inglis got rid of Beau Champion and then trampled over the top of Chris Sandow and Fetuli Talanoa in a barnstorming run. Inglis ran for 195 metres from just 11 carries.
Who Was Not… He’s in great form at the moment and will be a key man for NSW in game two of the State of Origin series, but Craig Wing had a quiet night at the office.
Wing ran the ball eight times but unusually, didn’t come up with anything in the way of breaking tackles or slicing through the line. His role was a bit confusing; he started at dummy-half, then moved to halfback and later lock as the game went on.
Chris Sandow was the other ball player with poor involvement. While John Sutton had a big game with two try assists, two tackle breaks and three offloads, his no.7 didn’t help him out. Sandow needs to generate more attacking options with the ball. He ran just four times, when he needed to take on the line more.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Souths fans can look back with disdain at a try scored by Melbourne’s Wairangi Koopu in the 48th minute.
Billy Slater appeared to throw a forward pass to winger Steve Turner, who ultimately found Koopu for the four-pointer. However, the officials missed the error and Melbourne got back into the game.
There are so many whistleblowers and flag bearers out there it’s difficult to comprehend how a blatant case where the ball is thrown forward out of the hands could be missed.
Injuries… Melbourne warrior Dallas Johnson copped the shoulder of Souths Eddy Pettybourne in a tackle and was forced from the field with a jaw injury. It takes a fair bit to force Johnson off the field so Queensland selectors will be monitoring his recovery as they prepare to pick their team for Origin II.
Refs Watch: They controlled the game well, and the match flowed at a nice tempo throughout the 80 minutes.
The only black mark was missing the forward pass from Slater to Turner on the right side of the field.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Greg Inglis (Storm). The most devastating centre in the game and clearly benefiting from having more time and more ball. Brett Finch has helped him greatly; 2 points – Ryan Hoffman (Storm): Talk about men Brett Finch has helped – Hoffman is coming up with some great touches. Had a monster game, making 101 metres, coming up with a try assist, three offloads, three tackle breaks and a line break; 1 point – Roy Asotasi (Rabbitohs): Has been disappointing in recent weeks, but the Kiwi international returned to form here, carting the ball an incredible 169 metres for the match. Also made 25 tackles and broke two tackles.
Storm 28 (W Koopu, J Tomane, S Turner, C Cronk, G Inglis, R Hoffman tries; C Smith 2 goals) def Rabbitohs 22 (J Simpson 2, N Merritt, D Fa’alogo tries; I Luke 2, C Sandow goals) at Members Equity Stadium. Crowd: 15,197.