What happened to last year’s premiers? The Storm have plenty of work to do

Mary Konstantopoulos Columnist

By Mary Konstantopoulos, Mary Konstantopoulos is a Roar Expert

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    Something very odd happened in the game between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Melbourne Storm yesterday but truth be told it was just one moment in a very bizarre afternoon of rugby league at Kogarah.

    The Dragons were eventual winners of the game 34-14 and very well-deserved ones at that. After it appeared the Storm had turned a corner in the last three weeks with some dominant performances where they scored 21 tries in three games, the lack of ball control and overall ill-discipline we saw earlier in the season returned. It was difficult to watch.

    As for the Dragons, if you had any doubts about whether they are the team to beat in season 2018, they should no longer exist in your mind. It’s time we all started talking them up without fear.

    The Dragons were absolutely exceptional and are a beautifully put together football team, made up of forwards that can make metres up the middle like James Graham and Leeson Ah Mau, forwards that hit hard in defence like Tariq Sims, forwards with ball-playing ability like Jack de Belin and Tyson Frizell, and then some controlled halves and flair in the backline through the likes of Nene McDonald, Euan Aitken and Matt Dufty.

    The only thing that possibly outshone the Dragons’ performance was the sight of a perfect autumn day with a heaving hill at Kogarah. A strong Dragons outfit is good for the game, with over 19,000 packing out the hill on Sunday afternoon.

    The next couple of paragraphs are not intended to take away from St George’s performance. They were deserving winners.

    St George Illawarra Dragons

    (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

    But I want to take you to a couple of odd moments during the game.

    The first was back in the 17th minute when Josh Addo-Carr was denied a certain try (and by certain, I mean he certainly crossed the try-line).

    This call changed the course of the game. The Storm are unlikely to have won because they played poorly, but it certainly would have put the match on a different course. It’s rare that I give so much emphasis to one call, particularly because I am someone that believes that decisions in the game sometimes go your way and other times do not.

    There was some miscommunication between the referees which, despite resulting in a favourable decision toward Melbourne, really ended up being an advantage for the Dragons because the Storm were unable to score off that ensuing penalty and had gone on to score if play had been able to continue.

    Despite Addo-Carr diving over the try line for a certain try, we saw the play called back to award the Storm with a penalty because of an interference in Sam Kasiano’s play-the-ball by Cameron McInnes.

    Apparently, Matt Cecchin did not hear the call made by assistant referee Chris Butler who was trying to call play back. Unfortunately by that point, Cecchin was following the ball as it went to Slater who then put it in the hands of Addo-Carr for a try.

    According to the rules, play was unable to continue because the play-the-ball had been unacceptable.

    After the decision was made, Cameron Smith was clearly ropeable. At one point, I thought he was going to get sent to the sin bin again for dissent. I can understand his frustration particularly because the advantage was meant to be in favour of his team.

    Had that try been awarded, the scores could have been locked up at 10-10. Instead, play continued and the Dragons went into halftime with a 12-4 lead.

    What a bizarre passage of play where, despite having scored in the corner from the ensuing play, the Storm eventually ended up with a penalty which saw them leave the Dragons’ red zone with no points because of ‘unacceptable conduct from the defender’.

    I wonder how this decision changed the course of the game and what impact it had on the Storm mindset for the remainder of the game because they didn’t really recover.

    We could talk about this decision for the rest of the week, but the reality is the Storm did themselves no favours for the rest of the game. Their performance was marred by constant errors, ill-discipline and forward pass after forward pass. Melbourne conceded 11 penalties and made 14 errors in an effort that can be best described as ‘scrappy’.

    It was one of those games where I wish Fox had an option to press the red button for ‘Bellamy cam’.

    Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy

    (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

    It was also one of the first times I’ve ever felt for the Storm as a team, particularly when I saw Cameron Smith collapsed in the defensive line after he was hit below the belt by Jeremy Latimore, leaving a gap for McInnes to go through to score another Dragons try.

    I’m wondering if that conduct will be reviewed by the match review committee later this week, particularly after Smith made reference to it post-match.

    Credit to Craig Bellamy, who used his time in the post-match press conference to admit the obvious – the Storm still have some work to do to catch up to the Dragons who he called ‘the benchmark without a doubt’.

    Despite an afternoon for the Storm that they would certainly rather forget there, was one shining light: Josh Addo-Carr.

    As a Blues fan, I’m hopeful he has done enough to have earned himself a place in the New South Wales State of Origin squad.

    He scored a hat-trick yesterday and now has nine tries in his last four games. He’s also scored at least two tries in his last four games. His speed and ability to find the try line would be very welcome in the Blues squad.

    Where to for the Storm from here? They must draw a line in the sand and forget that game against the Dragons as quickly as possible. They head back to Melbourne now for their next game on Saturday night against a desperate Gold Coast Titans squad.

    Mary Konstantopoulos
    Mary Konstantopoulos

    Mary Konstantopoulos is a lawyer, sports advocate and proud owner and founder of the Ladies Who empire, including Ladies who League, Ladies who Legspin, Ladies who Lineout and Ladies who Leap. You can find her podcast on iTunes and find her on Twitter @mary__kaye and @ladieswholeague.

    The New South Wales State of Origin team for the 2018 series remains a mystery, with new coach Brad Fittler facing plenty of selection headaches. So we want you to tell us - and all your mates - who should start for Blues in Game 1 with our team picker.

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    The Crowd Says (60)

    • May 7th 2018 @ 7:10am
      RoryStorm said | May 7th 2018 @ 7:10am | ! Report

      It would be a brave bunch of selectors leaving JAC out of the SOO side Mary. From what I have been reading from the neutral Roarers, JAC has to be there.

      As for the Storms next game I think the fans will breathe a sigh of relief knowing they play the Titans at AAMI Park. Surely the Storm can get there game back on track against a team that can just not do anything right.

      For me, I would like to see Bellamy give Vanivalu a demotion to reserve grade so he can learn how to concentrate. At the moment he is a liability. Vanivalu & JAC used to be on a par but not anymore. JAC is showing Vanivalu how to go about it in every department.

      • Columnist

        May 7th 2018 @ 9:10am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | May 7th 2018 @ 9:10am | ! Report

        RoryStorm, hasn’t JAC’s development been an absolute pleasure to watch? What a player. I really hope he gets that Origin spot – if not now, when?

      • Roar Rookie

        May 7th 2018 @ 10:42am
        Joe said | May 7th 2018 @ 10:42am | ! Report

        They actually play the Titans at Suncorp in a double header. I guess its good for the coffers but they lost this same game last year because of all the guys who had international duties the week before all over the country. This week they travelled to Dragons for a very tough physical game, back to Melbourne than up to Suncorp to face the Titans. I don’t think this is going to be an easy run for them.

        • Columnist

          May 7th 2018 @ 10:50am
          Mary Konstantopoulos said | May 7th 2018 @ 10:50am | ! Report

          Thanks for pointing that out Joe. I think the Storm will still win, but it’s a different prospect to actually playing at home.

          • May 7th 2018 @ 8:33pm
            Raugeee said | May 7th 2018 @ 8:33pm | ! Report

            Titans defeated the Storm 38-36 in the corresponding double header last year. Entertaining match with the lead changing several times. Not expecting that this year though.

    • Roar Guru

      May 7th 2018 @ 7:46am
      Emcie said | May 7th 2018 @ 7:46am | ! Report

      I wouldn’t say that the Dragons performance was exceptional in that game. The first half was very poor from both sides and was about as far from the “game of the season” as you could get. The half time score should have been much more even and the Storm were definately dudded by that call, but the second half was always going to come down to which team held on to the ball and the Dragons did that while the Storm didn’t. Storm can probably use the excuse that they had to play most of the second half without their most influencial player after Smith was, well, “contained” so I’m not sure Storm fans will be stressing too much over that loss.

      • Columnist

        May 7th 2018 @ 9:12am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | May 7th 2018 @ 9:12am | ! Report

        I don’t think Storm fans should stress, Emcie. Far from it. I would be pretty content if I was a Storm fan. But it’s clear to me that they have work to do – they’ve been inconsistent to start the year and no doubt are still one of the best teams in the comp when playing their best footy.

        The errors and silly penalties are something that I’m not used to seeing from them though.

        • Roar Guru

          May 7th 2018 @ 10:09am
          Emcie said | May 7th 2018 @ 10:09am | ! Report

          It looked like they got the silly errors out of their game after the last three wins, but to drop the ball in the opening set was very poor. The Storm are too good for that to become a trend but they wont want a poor game like that to pop up too many times over the season. Feel a bit sorry for the Titans next week, Bellamy won’t be going easy on his team at all this week.

          • Columnist

            May 7th 2018 @ 10:51am
            Mary Konstantopoulos said | May 7th 2018 @ 10:51am | ! Report

            It says a lot about the standard we have come to accept from the team that an error like that is just seen as so out of character.

      • May 7th 2018 @ 10:36am
        Jewboy said | May 7th 2018 @ 10:36am | ! Report

        Would have to agree with you Emcie…..for a team that had an ‘off ‘ day against the premiership leaders to hold them to 4 tries to 3 wasn’t a bad effort.
        Widdop’s 9 goals from 9 atempts helped rub salt into the wound..

      • May 7th 2018 @ 11:41am
        Albo said | May 7th 2018 @ 11:41am | ! Report

        I agree Emcie. The first half was abysmal by both sides with errors & penalties in abound. Once Smith was “nutted” early in the 2nd half, the game was a forgone conclusion, despite good efforts from Munster & Slater to try to pull it out of the fire. I am not going overboard on the Dragons forecast at this stage. They are travelling comfortably with no injuries to their squad, but they are still beatable, and it may be on again this week against the Bunnies, who nearly nailed them late earlier in the season. Both teams should be at full strength and this looks a great match up on Sunday at ANZ.
        As for the Storm, it was just one of those days when nothing went right. Smith had half a game, Slater trying to compensate made a heap of errors, the rest had dropped balls , forward passes , & missed tackles everywhere. Best this one be forgotten about, and look ahead to next week. I doubt they will be that bad again this year.

        • May 7th 2018 @ 10:23pm
          KenoathCarnt said | May 7th 2018 @ 10:23pm | ! Report

          11 penalties to 6 plus like 5 pen goals that is unheard of and was Dragons game to lose. Plus a direct groin punch on Smith which lead to a direct try very dirty play from Dragons. Also a disallowed try to Storm. Rediculous what refs are doing to this game.

    • May 7th 2018 @ 7:51am
      Paul said | May 7th 2018 @ 7:51am | ! Report

      Mary, there have been many occasions in the past where sides have had a brumby call go against them and Melbourne teams of old have been no exception. The reality, as you pointed out was, the Storm had more than 60 minutes to recover from being down 10 4, but were not able to do so. I’d suggest it was 50:50, good play from theDragons and poor play from the Storm, but this decision, while quote strange (and I’m a Dragons fan), was not the factor that cost them the game.

      I still think the Storm is the benchmark for the comp, not the Dragons. They could not have played much worse than they did yesterday, have a few quality players out injured and are still sorting out their halves combination. They’ll be there, in a big way, at the pointy end of the season. If the Dragons keep going as they are, they will too.

      • Columnist

        May 7th 2018 @ 9:13am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | May 7th 2018 @ 9:13am | ! Report

        Agree Paul – as I said, I don’t think if that call had gone their way that the Storm would have won. It was the Dragons who well and truly deserved that win. But it was probably one of the more bizarre calls I have seen (simply because of how late the call was made).

    • May 7th 2018 @ 7:59am
      Brendon said | May 7th 2018 @ 7:59am | ! Report

      I think those two incidents are fairly significant though, and would have changed the course of the match. The no-try is rubbish. Never seen anything so ridiculous in my life. Note the dragons player sliding in to defend fox boots first as well, just an fyi (as I watch the little clip play next to the comments box).

      But the Smith nutting is next level incompetence. Why was play allowed to continue? Why wasn’t it ever looked at? Its not an accidental elbow or knee, Latimore punches smith in the nuts. Lets call it for what it is here, its a dirty, disgusting act that deserves punishment. I’ve read people trying to justify it, “Smith was using elbows”, “Smith is a grub” but no one deserves that. If its reviewed, Latimore is punished (sin bin surely? Punching in the face is a sin bin, surely punching in the nuts is too right?) and the game dynamic changes completely?

      I’ve got to say, Cecchin had this stinker, and blew the record 33 penalty game with the Storm involved. I hope he doesn’t officiate many more Storm games in the future….

      • May 7th 2018 @ 8:24am
        godragonsgo said | May 7th 2018 @ 8:24am | ! Report

        Here are the excuses I predicted.
        Winners are grinners……………losers can go please themselves.

        • Roar Guru

          May 7th 2018 @ 9:04am
          Nat said | May 7th 2018 @ 9:04am | ! Report

          Without doubt the Dragons were the better team. Listening to the audio, the refs were trying to call the play back before the try was scored but A, instead of calling out, why didn’t he blow the whistle? B, Why didn’t they play advantage just like they have been doing for offside/makers not square? 19k of the Red Vs best at full noise, use the whistle ref.

          • May 7th 2018 @ 9:39am
            KenW said | May 7th 2018 @ 9:39am | ! Report

            I agree wholeheartedly, but does the pocket ref ever blow the whistle or is he just supposed to signal to the lead ref to do it?

            Melbourne have every right to feel dudded on that one – the Storm player managed a legal play-the-ball despite the attention. But if the pocket ref is shouting ‘penalty, penalty’ throughout the play – even without a whistle – you can’t then award a subsequent try.

          • May 7th 2018 @ 12:21pm
            JVGO said | May 7th 2018 @ 12:21pm | ! Report

            Hunt’s pass to Aitken was also clearly forward which is becoming a bit of a theme week after week. You’d imagine that eventually, at least by the end of the season, the refs will begin to pick this out, the same way they are beginning to pick out other habitual forward passers.

      • May 7th 2018 @ 8:24am
        godragonsgo said | May 7th 2018 @ 8:24am | ! Report

      • May 7th 2018 @ 12:02pm
        Tom said | May 7th 2018 @ 12:02pm | ! Report

        Well why wasn’t Smith penalised for the initial elbow to Latimore’s face?

    • May 7th 2018 @ 8:24am
      godragonsgo said | May 7th 2018 @ 8:24am | ! Report

      Here are the excuses I predicted.
      Winners are grinners……………losers can go please themselves.

    • Roar Rookie

      May 7th 2018 @ 8:49am
      Dirk Diggler said | May 7th 2018 @ 8:49am | ! Report

      Emcie you are spot on, first half was not great for either side, dropped balls alot of errors but the intent was there. Had the Storm scored that “JAC” try then I believe things would have ended differently but just like Bellamy says they have alot to work on. One thing is holding the ball, they have proven when they do this and don’t give away stupid penalties they are a dangerous team.

      Full credit goes to the Dragons….in the second half, they clearly played better and deserved the win. Like Paul said I don’t think the Storm will be too concerned by the loss. Also agree that Vunivalu needs to go back to reserves and work on his ball control. He is a shadow of the player he was last year. Not sure whether Chase Blair can move onto the wing now that I believe he is healthy?

      • Roar Guru

        May 7th 2018 @ 9:05am
        Emcie said | May 7th 2018 @ 9:05am | ! Report

        I’m not sure the result would have been different but it would have been a lot closer. Way too many silly errors from the Storm and Asofa-Solomona dropping the ball in the opening set was just plain unexcuseable. I’d like to know how Storm fan rate him,to me he seems great when they’re in front but if things aren’t great he seems to be one of the worst on the field. I probably wouldn’t crucify Vunivalu just yet, he has had a fair bit of player movement down his side while still adjusting to not having Cronk, JAC’s had it relatively easy (combination wise) in comparison

        • Roar Rookie

          May 7th 2018 @ 11:16am
          Joe said | May 7th 2018 @ 11:16am | ! Report

          NAS is pretty frustrating at times. He has the ability to be the best front rower in the game but he really needs to get those errors out of his game. He actually started the year in outstanding form, was one of the most consistent Storm players during their poor start but lately he has had errors creep into his game. I think Bellamy should put him back to the bench and be an impact player for a few games or rotate the starts. I guess with both Bromich and Glasby out he had no choice but I think he really looks like he needs a break. He is only 22 years old and played nearly every game last season with finals series plus the World Cup with NZ. That’s a lot for a 22 year old playing in the middle. Also agree on Vunivalu, the combo down his edge isn’t working and they’ve tried Croft and now Jacks. He needs to however cut his error rate or he will be dropped.

          • May 7th 2018 @ 11:52am
            Albo said | May 7th 2018 @ 11:52am | ! Report

            There is no logical excuses for Vunivalu’s poor form ? He was virtually faultless in his play before this season. What is going on in his head ? Maybe Cronk is gone , but he is still playing beside 3 of best players in our game with Smith, Slater & Chambers regularly combining on his side of the field. They can’t be impacting on his poor handling and defensive positioning ? I think he needs a Bellamy bollocking to get his mind back on the job.

            • Roar Rookie

              May 7th 2018 @ 12:03pm
              Joe said | May 7th 2018 @ 12:03pm | ! Report

              You could be right, maybe he needs a Bellamy rocket to get going. They just don’t look as fluid without Cronk down that left edge and he’s also not getting those pinpoint kicks that made up about a 3rd of his tries last year. Its not only him but Kaufusi isn’t scoring like he was last year so the combo definitely isn’t working. His errors though are all his own and that is what is really worrying and affecting the team.

              • May 7th 2018 @ 1:45pm
                Albo said | May 7th 2018 @ 1:45pm | ! Report

                They are missing Cronk’s structured options especially on their right side attack along with his bombing of the wings. That’s why Kaufusi is being used far less on the right edge the way Cronk used to pick him out. And Vunivalu too is getting starved of opportunities. A lot of this problem I think is due to Slater who is overplaying his role on both sides of the attack trying to create stuff that Cronk previously ran. Slater just doesn’t have the same poise and control for that role and is wasting a lot of opportunities with poor passes, poor kicks and wrong options. The left side is less impacted as Munster still runs that edge as he did last year and hence Addo-Carr is still getting plenty of opportunities.

          • Roar Guru

            May 7th 2018 @ 12:13pm
            Emcie said | May 7th 2018 @ 12:13pm | ! Report

            Thanks for the insight Joe, forgot they were missing Bromich and Glasby. Covering missing players isn’t a massive deal in a single game but week after week it can take its toll. NAS has certainly shown his potential and he’s definately in the right system to reach it.

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