Storm's back three fire to beat Dragons
The Melbourne Storm have put an exclamation mark on their premiership credentials with a dominant 34-22 win over the Dragons to claim their first competition points in Wollongong since 2005.
The visitors raced out of the blocks with wingers Suliasi Vunivalu and Josh Addo-Carr each scoring doubles in the opening 25 minutes to effectively kill off the contest before champion fullback Billy Slater chipped in with two second-half tries to complete a field day for Melbourne's back three.
Not even Gareth Widdop would have helped the Dragons on Sunday who did well to salvage some pride with a couple of late tries to maintain their impressive points differential.
It took the visitors nine minutes to unlock the Dragons' defence with Billy Slater chipping early in the count to a flying Suliasi Vunivalu who reeled the ball in to score in the corner, before Cameron Smith nailed the conversion despite being blinded by the setting sun.
The Storm continued to pepper the home side's edges and their persistence was rewarded from the next set as a lovely pass from five-eighth Cameron Munster gave Addo-Carr the room he needed to get on the outside of his man to score.
The first-half carve up continued with the Storm taking full advantage of their 65 per cent possession rate to extend their lead through Vunivalu who defied gravity to somehow plant the ball down without part of his body going into touch.
Tim Lafai went agonisingly close to pegging one back for the Red V but the in-form centre was superbly held up over the line by Slater, and it would prove to be a costly miss as Addo-Carr showed off his freakish speed to score thanks to a Nelson Asofa-Solomona offload.
The Dragons were given a glimmer of hope four minutes out from the break when Jason Nightingale finished off a slick shift to the left to give his side some momentum heading into the sheds.
Craig Bellamy's men wasted little time recapturing the ascendancy with Slater ending a try-scoring drought dating back to Round 9, 2015 to slice through for an emotional four-pointer five minutes into the second half.
Incredibly the superstar fullback was in for his second when Vunivalu exploded into the backfield and passed back inside to make it doubles for the Storm back three inside 55 minutes.
The simple conversion from next to the uprights held extra meaning for Cameron Smith who became the most prolific goal-kicker in premiership history with his 943rd successful shot at goal.
The stunning streak of players bagging doubles continued when Nightingale dived over for his second of the evening to cut the gap to 26 points midway through the second half.
Melbourne were reduced to 12 men in the 65th minute when halfback Cooper Cronk was sent to the sin bin for a professional foul and the Dragons made the most of the extra man with Cameron McInnes burrowing over from dummy-half before Nightingale got on the outside of his man to complete his hat-trick.
St George Illawarra's dogged determination to stay in the contest was rewarded a minute out from full-time when Tariq Sims powered his way through the defensive line to give the home fans a reason to cheer.
Storm 34 (Suliasi Vunivalu 2, Josh Addo-Carr 2, Billy Slater 2 tries; Cameron Smith 5 goals) def. Dragons 22 (Jason Nightingale 3, Cameron McInnes, Tariq Sims tries; Josh Dugan 1 goal) at WIN Stadium. Half-time: 22-4. Crowd: 12,377