ROUND 1: Melbourne Storm v. Brisbane Broncos (AAMI Park, 14/3/19)
The 2019 season started with a bang for the Storm, who got two opening penalties from Brisbane and chose to tap and go on both occasions. The first came after Matt Lodge was pinged for tackling Cameron Munster in the air, while the second was an offside penalty from James Roberts on the back of an intercept from Nelson Asofa-Solomona – the first step in a massive opening stanza from the Melbourne no. 10.
Moments after Roberts’ error, Suliasi Vunivalu made the first of two inspired plays during the opening twenty minutes, surging over the line out of dummy half on the right edge, and forcing a cluster of Brisbane defenders to prevent him from putting down four points then and there. With so much energy gathered on that side of the field, the Broncos were taken by surprise when a huge cut-out pass from Cameron Smith sent the footy back over to the Melbourne left edge, where Munster managed a spectacular offload from the midst of a scrambling Brisbane effort.
While Kenny Bromwich didn’t get hands to the Steeden on his first effort, the replay confirmed that he’d knocked it back after receiving it from Munster. Upon regathering it, he sent it across to Jahrome Hughes, who stormed through the defence to score the first try of the 2019 season – a stunning image for a local crowd still coming to terms with Billy Slater’s retirement. Sure, Smith didn’t manage the conversion, but the Storm were really rolling, confident enough to spread the ball across their backline on the restart before they’d even taken a tackle.
Things got worse for the Broncos when Roberts was taken off for an injury, replaced by Kotoni Staggs. Moments later, a mistimed kick from Kodi Nikorima got the Storm a seven tackle set, where Asofa-Solomona notched up his seventh carry in seven minutes. Thirteen minutes in, Vunivalu put some massive pressure on Anthony Milford when he was collecting the footy from Kodi Nikorima, rattling the ball free and leaving it sitting on the turf for Curtis Scott to scoot in and scoop it up.
It all happened so rapidly that none of the Broncos had a chance of catching Scott, with Andrew McCullough, who was closest, only managing to force the big centre to curve his trajectory more towards the side of the field. This time, Smith booted through the extras, but the Storm lost a bit of their momentum when they had two successive tries called back – the first from Josh Ado-Carr, due to an obstruction, and the second after bunker footage showed that Felise Kaufusi had coughed up the Steeden in the process of grounding it.
Twenty minutes in, the Storm got a dropout after Boyd only just managed to punch the ball into touch, but the Broncos held on, digging in to prevent the Storm from scoring again during this first stanza. Yet despite a much-needed error from Dale Finuane, and then a penalty on Will Chambers for a dangerous tackle, Brisbane were unable to capitalise, with Kodi Nikorima choosing to run the footy on the last tackle of that set, and Jamayne Isaako almost dropping the high ball at the end of the next Melbourne set, only just recapturing it with the tips of his fingers.
Still, Brisbane had regathered their confidence, as Boyd now put in one of the most heroic moments of the night so far, sliding into the knees of the oncoming Melbourne attack to clean up a Munster kick moments before Hughes could scoop it up. To his credit, Hughes responded with a stunning Slater-like catch under the high ball, but the Storm started to falter a little bit, with Brandon Smith losing the footy into Cameron Smith, and Kenny Bromwich and Suliasi Vunivalu both botching tryscoring opportunities in the last ten seconds – Bromwich by kicking on the left edge despite having room on his outside, and Vunivalu with a handling error as the siren rang out.
The Broncos seemed closer to scoring at the start of the second half, especially at the back end of a set that started with three of their strongest carries of the night from Oates, Bird and Boyd. Melbourne were quick to respond, however, at the tail end of a sequence that started with Bird cleaning up a long-range kick from Hughes only to be caught in goal. A minute later, Smith sent out a perfectly timed long ball to Munster, who popped it across to Bromwich, who had read the play perfectly and run a brilliant line to collect the footy on his chest at speed before getting it to ground.
This augured well for the Storm given that Bromwich’s only try in 2018 had been during their opening game in Perth. Still, an error from Croft, and then a penalty from Jesse Bromwich, opened the door for the Broncos to respond with two tries in quick succession. The first saw them employ a very South Sydney form of left edge defence, as Milford came into the line and shifted the footy across to Boyd, who sent it across in turn to Bird. Pausing for the just the slightest moment, the ex-Shark got it over to Oates, who put in a superb left-foot pivot to fend off Hughes and score.
One hour in and the Broncos had finally made a dent on the scoreboard, but the fans didn’t have to wait long to celebrate again, since Oates quickly proceeded to intercept an offload from Jesse Bromwich, beat Kaufusi and then fend off Hughes on his way to the chalk. It was hard to tell if it was the offload or the intercept that was more unexpected, since the replay showed that some of the Melbourne players closest to Oates had actually had their backs turned when he took possession.
With Isaako booting through the conversion once again, the Storm’s lead had suddenly shrunk to a mere four points, but it didn’t take them long to recover a more secure margin. Once again, the ball moved through Smith, Munster and Bromwich, but this time it was Jesse Bromwich, who tucked the Steeden under his arm and dummied to fool Boyd before barging his way to the tryline, putting the purple army ten points ahead again when Smith clocked up the conversion.
The Storm couldn’t have quashed the Brisbane momentum more effectively. Not only did this repeat the Smith-Munster-Bromwich from earlier in the match, showcasing how economically and efficiently the Storm could repeat their tryscoring formulae, but it also seemed to cancel out the offload from Bromwich that had let Oates through a couple of minutes before, getting the big no. 8 some catharsis and closure in the process.
With less than ten minutes on the clock, both sides ground in, but the Storm had won the arm-wrestle, not scoring again, but doing a pretty convincing job of preventing the Broncos from scoring as well. With such a sterling opening game, they’ll be looking for an even more emphatic win over the Raiders at GIO Stadium next week, while Brisbane will be keen to get back on their feet when they take on the Cowboys for the first Queensland derby of 2019.
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