Dragons v Storm: Five key points
Melbourne's electrifying back three combined to guide the Storm to a 34-22 win over the Dragons to break a 12-year drought in Wollongong.
Hot start stuns the Dragons
The Dragons entered Round 9 as the best first-half team in the NRL having conceded just 40 points through the first eight matches.
Form quickly went out the window with the Storm racing in 22 points in 25 minutes to stun the Dragons and the Wollongong faithful who had turned out to watch their troops duke it out for a share of the competition lead.
"We wanted to start well because they've started all of their games really well this year. We knew if we came here and didn't start well that we'd be chasing them all day," Storm coach Craig Bellamy said.
"I didn't really expect that we were going to get that far ahead so it was a really good effort from our blokes. That half was probably about as good a half as we've played this year; unfortunately we couldn't keep it up in the second half."
Back three lay the platform
For the past decade, the Storm have been defined by their 'big three'. On Sunday, it was their back three that did all the damage.
Wingers Suliasi Vunivalu and Josh Addo-Carr bagged first-half doubles while fullback Billy Slater chimed in with a pair of four-pointers after the break, with the trio combining for all six of Melbourne's tries.
"They were tremendous, and they've been really good all year," Bellamy said.
"Billy just seems to get a little bit better each week, Suli is unbelievable – he could be anything – and Josh has really come out of the ground this year after coming to our club so we're really happy with how those guys are playing."
Horrible news for Welch
The Storm's big win came at a cost with bench forward Christian Welch set to miss the rest of the season with a serious knee injury.
Welch was a part of the side that went to the grand final last year, but his season is over after his coach revealed he had torn his ACL two minutes after coming onto the field.
"He's torn his ACL so he'll be out for the rest of the year," Bellamy confirmed.
"That's a huge disappointment for him because he's just starting to find his feet in first grade. He's devastated at the moment so that's taken a bit of the gloss off the win tonight.
"All he can do now is get it operated on, get into his rehab and hopefully he'll be right for next year. It's horrible news for him and us."
All-or-nothing season continues for Nightingale
In an otherwise disappointing day at the office, veteran winger Jason Nightingale gave Dragons fans something to cheer about with three tries in a losing effort. What's remarkable is that it was his second hat-trick of the season, while he has been held try-less in his other seven appearances.
Mann holds his own in the halves
It was never going to be easy trying to replace someone like Gareth Widdop, but Kurt Mann didn't look out of place in the No.6 jersey against his former side.
Mann made the most of his start in the halves with a couple of promising touches, but like the rest of his teammates, struggled to assert himself until the match was already over.
"I thought Kurt played well. Attack-wise he's a threat – the way he runs the footy," Dragons coach Paul McGregor said.
"His education will come through training in the next couple of weeks and he'll hold that spot for a while until 'Gaz' gets back."