It wasn't as easy as expected but the Melbourne Storm proved too classy in the end for the Newcastle Knights, prevailing 20-16 at Hunter Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Uncharacteristic Storm do enough
Eight errors, seven penalties, 79 per cent completion rate and 44 per cent possession… and the Storm still somehow won. Melbourne have won 10 of their past 11 games and not many have put up a fight like the Knights did. Storm coach Craig Bellamy said giving his team the entire week off over their last bye round had its ill-effects.
"Taking nothing away from Newcastle, we were a little bit rusty. We knew it probably wasn't going to result in a positive for this game, but we thought it might have been a bit of an advantage for us at the end of the season," Bellamy said.
"Hopefully that's a little blow out for us and a little reminder we need to prepare well."
Knights start to find their feet
Whether it was the Jarrod Mullen influence or the Knights turning their last-start golden point loss to the Raiders into a positive, it's clear as day that Newcastle are beginning to turn the corner. For the first time in a long time the positives outweighed the negatives despite Melbourne handing the Knights their 11th-straight loss. Pat Mata'utia and Korbin Sims had their best games of the season, Mitch Barnett keeps living up to his potential and Robbie Rochow proved once again why the Knights are mad to risk losing him.
"We basically expected a committed Knights outfit," Bellamy said. "For whatever reason, no matter how each of us are going, they always seem to give us a hard time.
"We didn't expect anything different. Our defence held us in the game and that's probably the only reason why we ended up winning."
Returning Storm cavalry offer handy boost
Not wanting to disrespect the Knights by resting Queensland Origin skipper Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk, Bellamy also took the opportunity to bring centre Will Chambers and fullback Cameron Munster back into the fold after lengthy spells on the sideline. However, Chambers' first game back since Round 6 was severely impacted by the Knights' dominance of possession.
"They probably did it a little bit tough especially Will who has had a whole heap of time out. His lungs were probably burning at the end of it, but I thought he had a couple of good touches," Bellamy said.
"Will's really our man. He's one of our strikes when we have the ball, but we didn't have much. He had to do a lot more defence than we hoped.
"Munster was really good too. He hasn't had as long out but there was still some rust there. He did well under the high ball though, (Knights five-eighth Jarrod) Mullen was throwing them right up in the clouds there so it wasn't easy."
Mamo performance provides food for thought
Jake Mamo's two-try, six tackle break performance will surely give Knights coach Nathan Brown a positive headache for once. The brilliant State of Origin showings from Dane Gagai – who didn't feature against Melbourne – in the front line would have already tempted Brown to put him back into his preferred centre spot, and Mamo's influence may tip him over the edge.
"We have mixed and matched numbers in plenty of areas this year and we have done that deliberately to get our roster right long term," Brown said.
"Some things have looked good and somethings haven't been good but we have done that because if we can help these young kids grow, and buy the right players, it makes you look like you know what you're doing.
"When you buy bad, and don't manage your roster, it makes life hard for any coach and it's why some get the sack."
Knights kill off Vunivalu's ridiculous streak
Melbourne rookie Suliasi Vunivalu achieved something new against the Knights by scoring just the one try. Vunivalu's 24th-minute try was the first time in his 11 games that he's achieved the feat despite scoring 17 tries so far this year. Vunivalu has managed to go scoreless in just three games so far, with him otherwise kicking off his NRL career the best way possible with five try-scoring doubles and two hat-tricks. His first one-try haul brings an end to a remarkable streak for one of the feel-good stories of the season.