Melbourne Storm flogged Manly Sea Eagles under the Etihad Stadium roof on Friday evening, the home side giving up an Olympic Park home ground advantage yet still smashing the pretenders from north of the Murray.
Manly left the Victorian capital limping worse than a racehorse with cramp. They turned up with real claims to the premiership, yet exited with their NRL hopes in tatters – their worst fears realised two days later when the Eels smashed the Dragons to see the reigning premiers bundled out of the comp.
They scored some late tries; but they were nothing more than reminders that they could score them.
The Storm played superb rugby league and will be mighty chuffed they dusted an arch rival and the premiers of 2008. Lots to like about the men in purple – their name-players lived up to them; their journeymen toiled like slaves. They let the Eagles in for a few late tries but had won the game long before Kieran Foran crossed in the 72nd minute.
The Game Swung When… Within 15 minutes Manly five-eighth Jamie Lyon went off with injury and Manly had lost a potent weapon. And with Matt Orford struggling to impose himself, the Sea Eagles had limited avenues of attack.
In the 21st minute Brett Stewart dropped a grubber kick that shot through a little quickly and bounced off his mid-section. It probably should have been snaffled.
Six minutes later Storm winger Dane Nielsen beat a tackle and scored a try. Ten minutes later best-on-ground Billy Slater ran over for his second try.
Manly didn't come up with much in the period up to half-time, and the Storm led 16-nil at the break.
Two minutes after half-time the Storm butchered a fabulous try-scoring opportunity when a loose carry by Jeff Lima went to ground. Yet Manly knocked on in their next set, and the Storm came again. The ball went to Cameron Smith who grubbered perfectly in goal for Slater to pounce on and claim his hat-trick. Smith's conversion made it 22-nil and the visitors needed a miracle. It did not come.
Smith burrowed over for a typical hooker's try in the 52nd minute, and when his conversion made it 28-nil, Manly were so much burnt raisin toast.
Who Was Hot… Slater made four line breaks, 13 tackle breaks, scored four tries and ran like the proverbial hairy goat. Superb game.
Cameron Smith's work out dummy-half – kicking, passing, scheming like a good general – was exemplary. Big game from one of his generation's big players.
Greg Inglis (five tackle breaks and 143 metres) in the centres was typically evasive.
And Storm forwards Ryan Hoffman (16 runs, 110 metres, four tackle breaks) and Aiden Tolman (12 runs, 90 metres, four tackle breaks, a try) were also strong.
Centre Will Chambers made 18 solid tackles.
The Sea Eagles were well served by David Williams who defused several Storm fronts.
Brent Kite (35 tackles), Matt Ballin (32 tackles) and Glenn Stewart (35 tackles) were busy felling opposition players.
Who Was Not... Matt Orford didn’t get his hands on the pill enough, and when he did he ran too far across field, and so did his supports.
In the 49th minute Orford passed a ball that was not so much intercepted by Inglis as plucked out of the air when it was passed into his chest. Inglis ran up-field and bumped off three tacklers, and only stopped when he dropped the ball.
A few plays later Smith crossed the line… and that was the game.
Ricky Stuart has a theory that the halfback “owns” the result. Well, with Lyon off the field, Orford owned this game like a country owns nuclear waste.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… The fabulous Billy Slater scored four great tries, his final effort a multi-faceted stepping run that turned Steve Matai inside out and probably beat five other Sea Eagles. He's a beauty, B. Slater.
Bad Boys… Storm reserve forward Ryan Tandy was put on report for a high shot that saw Watmough leave the field with a sore leg. Work that one out…
Refs Watch… In the 15th minute Lyon was tackled by Brett Finch. Lyon then “tackled” Finch in the tackle and put Finch on his bottom. Shayne Hayne penalised Finch, but Lyon had milked it like an udder.
There were a couple of other here-or-there ones. But ultimately it was a game the refs had no real impact upon.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Billy Slater (Storm): Four tries and a whole lot of menace from the Australian no.1; 2 points – Cameron Smith (Storm): Drove his players beautifully and scored a try; 1 point – Aiden Tolman (Storm): Four tackle breaks and a try from an unsung prop.
Storm 40 (B Slater 4, D Nielsen, C Smith, A Tolman tries; C Smith 6 goals) def Sea Eagles 12 (S Matai, K Foran tries; M Orford 2 goals) at Etihad Stadium. Crowd: 21,112.