Melbourne celebrated the re-signing of their champion halfback Cooper Cronk with a six-try party as they romped to a 34-22 win over Newcastle in their NRL clash at AAMI Park.
Cronk signed a four-year contract extension during the week and showed his value to the club on Friday night with another impressive performance as the Storm continued their unbeaten start to the season.
The Knights haven’t won in Melbourne since 2004 and that long-standing hoodoo was never threatened, with the home side leading 16-6 at halftime.
Cronk set the tone with a 40-20 special two minutes into the game and his team were in four minutes later with five-eighth Gareth Widdop strolling across the line.
Newcastle were brought undone by the Storm’s class at the set play, with the spoils shared across the side.
The home side had six different tryscorers including star fullback Billy Slater, who grabbed his ninth for the season.
The Knights started the second half with intent but that was snuffed out through a try to Slater after Ryan Hoffman got a ball away in a tackle that was scooped up by the ever-present custodian.
Trailing 22-6, Newcastle’s case wasn’t helped when they were penalised and marched 10m when their five-eighth Kurt Gidley questioned a call and wouldn’t hand the ball to the Storm for a scrum feed.
In the ensuing play, Melbourne took full advantage with centre Will Chambers bursting through the defence on his way to the tryline in the 64th minute.
Knights hooker Danny Buderus was forced off the field with 11 minutes remaining and headed straight to the sheds after a head-knock.
Despite three late tries to his side, by Jarrod Mullen, Neville Costigan and a second to busy winger James McManus, it was already game over.
Coach Craig Bellamy wouldn’t be pleased with the late lapses in defence but his side had already done enough to continue their impressive start to the year.
Despite it being their ninth successive loss in Melbourne, Knights coach Wayne Bennett said he saw a lot of positives in his team’s showing, singling out Mullen and McManus for praise.
He said that Buderus was fine after the knock although Gidley had hyperextended his knee.
He lamented Melbourne’s try just before halftime, scored by Hoffman, after his side had toiled hard to get back into the match.
“I thought we played some really good football for long periods of time,” Bennett said.
“They’re a quality football team and they have been for a long period of time.
“We’re a long way off where we want to be but there was a lot of things I was pleased about. It wasn’t all doom and gloom for me.
“I’m pretty optimistic about where we can go.”
In typical Storm fashion, the competition leaders were more concerned about allowing the Knights to score three tries in the last 10 minutes than their comprehensive win.
Skipper Cameron Smith said he gave his teammates a serve and told them he wasn’t happy with the “silly errors”.
“They were short-cuts, and this team’s not about that,” Smith said.
“You can’t be happy with putting a good 60 minutes of football together and then putting the feet in the slippers. You’ve got to play the full 80 minutes so I thought I better let the boys know that.”
Storm coach Craig Bellamy said he was disappointed with the late patch of play, but pleased with the rest of the game.
“We’re disappointed with that ending but that first 60 minutes was really good,” he said.
“That was probably near as good as we’ve played this year.”
In some bad news for the Storm, forward Sika Manu is likely to miss the next six weeks with a high ankle sprain.