The Storm thrashed the Broncos 60-12, for the club's third loss in the past four weeks.
Brisbane showed they are becoming genuine contenders but in the end coach Kevin Walters said they got “found out” by Melbourne as the home side’s class proved the difference at AAMI Park on Friday night.
The Broncos went into the clash with a 9-4 record on the back of a seven-game winning streak but without skipper Adam Reynolds but held their own for most of the contest before the Storm kicked clear in the second half to win 32-20.
Melbourne were again without Ryan Papenhuyzen, whose six-week absence with knee and hamstring problems was lengthened by a COVID-19 positive result during the week but Craig Bellamy’s side maintained its machine-like intensity to improve to 11-3 and keep the Cowboys at bay in the battle for second spot behind premiers Penrith.
Kiwi halfback Jahrome Hughes was the maestro for Melbourne, scoring two tries and setting up another in a superb performance heading into next Saturday’s long-awaited Test against Tonga in Auckland, the first for New Zealand since November, 2019.
“He’s up there with any half in the competition, I believe,” Bellamy said. “I wouldn’t be swapping him for any half.”
While disappointed to go down, Walters said the Broncos would dust themselves off and be better prepared the next time they face a premiership heavyweight.
Bellamy repaid the compliments in kind to his old Raiders teammate. “To put 26 points on them in a row is a pretty good effort. They are a good side, they’ve earned their spot in the top four,” he said.
“Since Cameron Smith’s retired, we’ve probably struggled with that a little bit,” he added when asked about getting back in front after trailing by 10, “but we’ve made huge improvements in that area with our leaders, starting with Jesse (Bromwich) on how they can communicate when we get under pressure.
“We’ve put a lot of work into that and I think our guys have done a really good job, our leaders in keeping everyone cool, calm and collected, and being really clear with what we need to do next and then we move on from there.”
Tui Kamikamica, who will back up for Fiji in the Pacific Test at Campbelltown next Saturday, opened the scoring for Melbourne when he used his bulk to crash over from close range in the ninth minute.
The Storm could have doubled their six-point lead but winger Dean Ieremia fumbled the putdown after winning the race to a well-placed Kenny Bromwich grubber.
It fooled referee Adam Gee, who awarded the try, and the club’s social media department but the bunker took all of two seconds to realise it was no-try after looking at the replay.
Brisbane hit back in the 18th minute when Corey Oates touched down for the 11th time in 2022 when Brenko Lee batted down a bomb and stand-in skipper Kurt Capewell spiralled a pass to the winger.
Reynolds’ halfback replacement Tyrone Roberts put up the kick which led to the try while his goal-kicking understudy, Kotoni Staggs, shanked the sideline conversion attempt.
Staggs and NSW teammate Payne Haas shrugged off shoulder injuries to take their place in the Brisbane line-up.
Justin Olam, who re-signed on a four-year deal during the week, had a try disallowed in the 22nd minute when Cameron Munster skittled Brisbane’s Jordan Riki before the Storm centre had latched onto a high kick.
Oates made it 12 for the season as he makes a late bid for an Origin recall with the Maroons when the bunker ruled Capewell didn’t affect Hughes with his decoy run as Brisbane swept the ball along the backline.
Staggs nailed the conversion from out wide this time for a 10-6 Broncos lead after 26 minutes.
Queensland winger Selwyn Cobbo dived over for his 11th try of the year when Ieremia knocked on while on a kick return and Roberts spun the ball wide for a 16-6 Broncos cushion.
Cobbo coughed up the pill at the other end of the field five minutes later after a Hughes kick and Munster pounced to cut the deficit to four.
Hughes levelled it up at 16-16 just before half-time when he set up and backed up a Nick Meaney break to dive over in the corner.
Meaney missed the sideline conversion and then a penalty goal from halfway after the Broncos were incorrectly penalised after the siren for kicking out on the full when replays proved Munster caught the ball before he stepped over the dead-ball line.
“I thought probably that seven or eight minutes into half-time was a killer blow when they picked up a couple of tries,” Walters said. “But apart from that, we were in the fight and it was good to get a late try against them as well.
“They’ve been the benchmark team for a long time and we’re on the way up. Whilst we’re disappointed with the loss we can walk away from here making sure that we learned a few things and next time when that opportunity comes in games like that, we need to be better.
“The Storm continue to prove if you’re not where you need to be, well they’ll find you out and they did that tonight to us. But it’s OK, we’ve got plenty of rounds left to fix ourselves up and get going again.”
The half-time stalemate held firm with both sides missing opportunities to strike first in the second half before Ieremia slid over in the 56th minute off an Olam pass and the left-edge duo did it again a short time later for a 26-16 advantage.
Hughes sealed the result with his second try eight minutes from full-time before Ezra Mam backed up a Billy Walters run to peg back the final margin in the closing stages.
Walters said they were “realists” at the Broncos and they were aware they need to improve to compete with the likes of Melbourne and Penrith when the finals roll around.