Cameron Munster has powered Melbourne back to winning ways, scoring twice as the Storm defeated Manly 28-8 to kick off Indigenous Round at AAMI Park.
The five-eighth scored two classic Munster tries: one a dart from a scrum play, the other the result of a ball steal, a skill he has made his trademark in the NRL in recent years.
“He’s got a bit away from what he’s good at (recently),” said Craig Bellamy.
“He went straight back to that tonight. I thought he was tremendous tonight – if he wasn’t our best player he was up there. When he plays well, we usually follow.
“Because the people playing Jahrome [Hughes]’s position haven’t played much with Munster or played in that position (at all), the combinations under pressure aren’t easy to come by. There was a few things with it.”
Cameron is the ultimate competitor and when things aren’t going for him, he probably tries too hard. He was tremendous on Thursday night and having Jahrome back helped.
The Storm were in the unusual position of coming into tonight’s contest on the back of two consecutive thrashings, albeit with troops out and against tough opposition, and were in the mood from the off.
Manly were also on the back of two defeats, but never looked likely against a Melbourne side in this sort of mood. Munster, ably assisted by the returning Hughes, was too good.
This was a testament to the Storm machine continuing to function even without a few key cogs. They manipulated field position and possession, built pressure over time and had enough small moments of quality to win out in the end.
Everyone from number 1 to 6 got 100 metres with ball in hand, resulting in a 400 metre total running metre advantage. It wasn’t so much that Manly played badly, there was just no chance of them competing with a team this efficient.
“It was a couple of steps in the right direction,” said Bellamy. “I don’t think we were overly fluent with the footy, I don’t think Manly were, it was pretty slippery out there.
“I thought we competed really well. We didn’t seem to panic and showed a lot of patience.
“We were pretty dominant in the first half and left a couple of tries out there, but I liked the way we started the second half, with intent in our running and desire in our defence.
“We scored early and our defence won it from there. We can certainly get better, but some of that lack of smoothness comes from the combinations – there’s a few out there who haven’t played much together.”
Manly didn’t help themselves with errors and occasionally leaky defence, according to coach Des Hasler.
“I was really disappointed with us tonight,” he said. “I was disappointed with our application. At 12-4, we weren’t in too bad a position, but we didn’t give ourselves a chance. We didn’t set up well, we didn’t execute well.
“Melbourne were a bit off tonight themselves and the scoreline doewsn’t reflect that. It’s about building pressure and field position. We didn’t give ourselves a chance, we inflict this on ourselves and that’s not good.
“It’s something that we need to fix. If you fix it, you’ll win footy games and particularly tight ones.”
The Sea Eagles also lost Dylan Walker, so often the spark plug, to a knee problem – he will join an injury list that already contains two Trbojevics, Martin Taupau and Brad Parker.
The game started ominously for Manly. They nearly went behind in the third minute, with Felise Kaufusi scoring at the corner, but the bunker revealed a foot in touch thanks to a Reuben Garrick try-saver.
Not long after, the Storm did go ahead: Munster got his first, going over way too easily from a scrum play.
The pressure built and built with little respite, but the Sea Eagles’ defence was strong and, uncharacteristically, the Melbourne attack was slow. They missed men with passes and regularly ran behind their own decoys, slowing the attack down.
Though the Storm were not at their best in attack, they did the basics well enough to maintain pressure. When Manly got out, they fluffed their lines at the Melbourne end and failed to build their own attack.
More points were coming. Tui Kamikamica broke clear down the middle but was hauled down before he could reach the line.
Eventually, Hughes created an opening with a deft inside pass to Chris Lewis that extended the lead. Manly fumed, as the play the ball that had preceded the score was incorrect, but out of the purview of the Bunker.
Instead, they responded to the injustice on the field. After finally managing to string some field position together, the Sea Eagles struck via a fluid backline move that had Jorge Taufua at the end of it for his first try in over two years.
Melbourne came out of the blocks firing for the second half. It wasn’t glamourous rugby league, but it was effective, as they battered through the middle, sent up a high kick and Xavier Coates came down with it.
The next try was farcical: Munster had already stolen the ball once in the second half, pinching from Tolutau Koula to win field position, and then from Jorge Taufua to waltz over the line.
Kenny Bromwich added another from a deft Nick Meaney pass before Christian Tuipulotu grabbed one back for the Sea Eagles.