Melbourne were on a roll when they rocked up to play the Roosters in Newcastle on Thursday night. They’d scored 90 tries in their last twelve games, and were looking for thirteen on the trot, while Felise Kaufisi, Cam Munster, Josh Ado-Carr and Christian Welch were all back from Origin, with Jesse and Kenny Bromwich both back after missing the huge win over the Tigers on the Sunshine Coast. This might also be Nicho Hynes’ last game before Ryan Papenhuyzen’s return, and he made the most of it, in one of the best fullback performances of his career.
On the other side of the Steeden, the Roosters had a spottier few weeks behind them, although they also had James Tedesco straight off Origin, where he’d been the best player on the park. Still, it was hard to believe this was first against fifth, since the Chooks conceded their most points before halftime since 2001, and didn’t score a single point by the final siren. In fact, Melbourne’s dominance didn’t feel all that different from their century win over the Tigers two weeks before. They won by (slightly) more there, but didn’t let in one point here.
Of course, the Roosters are suffering a pretty serious injury toll at this point in the season, although that fact alone couldn’t explain the scoreline either, especially since Melbourne were also without Papenhuyzen and Nelson Asofa-Solomona in their ranks. Instead, this game was a testament to the enormous gap that has opened up between the top two teams in the comp and the rest of the eight, since the Roosters were never able to harness their flow in any consistent way, despite several key surges of possession, position and momentum.
Isaac Liu and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves swarmed in to prevent Jesse Bromwich making much headway on the first carry, but Tui Kamikamica compensated with good post-contact metres on the second, and then took it across the halfway line on play four, following a good run from Kenny Bromwich up the left edge. Teddy made good ground off the kick, and the Roosters were inside the Melbourne forty by tackle three, where Tedesco delivered another strong run to get Walker in place for a kick from the twenty that Hynes ended up taking clean.
Crichton and Verrills did well to prevent Kaufusi making the first offload of the game midway through the next set, while Kamikamica and Kenny Bromwich did a better job of containing Tedesco after the high ball, despite the lack of a really aggressive Melbourne chase. Even so, the Chooks made good field position again on this set, as Walker took his next kick just over the thirty, and struck a better angle this time, forcing the Foxx to collect it on the bounce, right on his own try line, although the Storm didn’t waste any time working it back either.
For the first time, however, they didn’t break the halfway line, meaning Daniel Tupou was able to parlay his footwork into Melbourne territory on tackle two of the subsequent set. Sydney now had the best field position of either side, as Joey Manu ran it into the twenty, and Walker took his kick from the ten, only for Reimis Smith to catch it on the full in goal, giving his men a seven tackle set. Yet in the first great Storm play of the night, Cam Munster realised there was nobody fielding the Roosters’ back, and booted the footy on play zero.
Ado-Carr read the kick perfectly, surging ahead to scoop up the Steeden at the ten, keeping his left elbow above the turf as Teddy downed him five metres out, and relying on the greasy surface to carry him in goal. Hynes added the extras and the Storm were close to a point per minute, while this was a worrying opening sequence for the Roosters, especially since Brandon Smith woke up with ten post-contact metres on the restart. He took another run on play four, setting up Munster for what briefly looked like another effortless assist for the Foxx.
This time Munster delivered a deft chip from the twenty that Joseph Suaalii failed to clean up in goal, leaving it available for Ado-Carr to steal, only to lose it back into the Sydney City winger. To add to this slight shift in momentum, the Chooks got the first restart of the game, off a ruck error from Dale Finucane, and followed with their best left sweep so far, as Tupou plunged over the ten but without any space to score. Yet it all started to come apart out on the right, with an increasingly precarious passage that ended with a Reimis Smith pickup.
For a moment it looked like Smith might follow Ado-Carr by going all the way, but even with a more conventional set it felt like Melbourne had staunched Sydney City’s brief flow. Josh Morris resumed some of that flow by securing his men a seven tackle set, and Tupou built on it with another surge up the left, bringing the Roosters inside the thirty with four tackles left. Teddy reached the ten a play later, and might have assisted on the right edge if he’d got the offload away, before Walker danced around several defenders before falling onto the kick.
Walker’s mercurial footwork was the last burst of this renewed period of Roosters flow, but by the time he got boot to ball his strike was too hard. Suaalii and Many may have combined to shove Hynes over the sideline midway through the next set, but Morris fumbled his next kick, bringing the period he started with his seven tackle set to an abrupt end. Meanwhile, Kaufusi was raring to break through as he brought the footy over halfway, as the Storm got their first restart off a ruck error from Lachlan Lam, and JWH was pinged for an illegal strip.
In one efficient set, the Storm had put this brief surge of Sydney City energy behind them, so a try here would be the perfect way to restore their dominance of the opening ten minutes. Nevertheless, they played it safe, as Hynes booted through the penalty goal, and yet this just steeled and steadied them for the torrent of points that was to come. In the short term, nobody could have expected Jesse Bromwich to cough up the the footy on play one of the restart, thanks to an enormous combined tackle from Liu, JWH and Siosiua Taukeiaho.
This was a critical chance for the Roosters, who had a shot at absorbing all of Melbourne’s recent momentum as their own. They shifted left immediately out of the scrum, where communication broke down as Teddy lobbed a wide ball out to the wing. It seemed designed as a cut-out for Tupou, but Morris misread it, tapping it on awkwardly as George Jennings surged in for a crunching tackle, producing an awkward bounce the Giraffe couldn’t contain. Still, the Tricolours got another chance when Kaufusi was called offside within the ten.
In other words, it was make or break time for the Roosters, who’d unexpectedly soared into the first goal-line attack of the game, and got one more chance when Jennings tried to intercept another sweep out to the left but knocked on instead. Once again, Sydney City had a scrum at the ten, and this time they swept right, moving through Lam and Tedesco only for Suaalii to put it down at the end of a tricky harbour bridge ball from his captain. The Chooks had failed to execute on both wings, leaving them very vulnerable to a Storm try now.
Amazingly, Melbourne didn’t deliver, as the slippery Steeden got the best of Hynes, who made the purple army’s first unforced error early in the tackle count. It was only a few seconds before Walker put the footy down in turn, before Kaufusi followed Hynes by coughing up a Finucane pass on the very next play. In a single minute, the footy seemed to have absorbed all the moisture in the stadium, as the Storm survived Kaufusi’s cough-up, and finally consolidated again two sets later, when Hynes got some joy after his own loose carry.
The intervening set was all clinical Melbourne efficiency – a methodical accumulation of field position that kept Sydney in their own thirty for the remainder of the subsequent set. To make matters worse, Lam didn’t manage a deep kick, and while the bounce was a little awkward, Hynes read it beautifully. Taking it inside his own forty, he eluded both Manu and Tupouniua, burned fifty metres, shaped for Ado-Carr and abruptly shifted direction to turn Teddy inside out, before dancing over a last-ditch JWH ankle tap to set himself up for an easy conversion.
This was arguably the pinnacle of Hynes’ stint at fullback in 2021, not least because he had bounced back so clinically from the cough-up that set this last brief period of Melbourne messiness in motion. The Storm didn’t show any signs of slowing down on the restart either, as Jahrome Hughes made a mercurial run down the middle, almost breaking through the line and tempting Taukeiaho into a leg pull to get his men a full set in the Roosters’ thirty. Hynes dragged them into the red zone on play one, and Welch had them at the ten by tackle two.
With so much field position, it felt like the Storm must score on the next play, especially since Brandon Smith barraged over out of dummy half for what would have been the next try if not for a heroic tackle from Walker. Even so, Taukeiaho copped another penalty, for not being square at marker, and Finucane mirrored Smith’s run on the other side of the park a play later. Receiving a short ball from Muster beside the right post, he simply dragged Crichton and Lam ten metres, building up so much momentum that Teddy was never going to hold him up.
Hynes may have missed the kick from right in front, but this was still a resounding sequence from Melbourne. Where Sydney had failed to capitalise on both sides of the park during their brief surge of field position, the purple army seemed to have scored two tries in one here, since Brandon Smith’s surge on the left side was a carbon copy of Finucane’s dash up the right. Craig Bellamy has said that Finucane is the best prepared footballer he’s encountered, and there was a touch of his Origin preparation in the focus and strength he showcased here.
Meanwhile, the Storm got another restart on the restart, thanks to an offside error from JWH, and relaxed into their easiest try so far. Kamikamica brought them inside the ten, where Brandon Smith took a sharp run out of dummy half before popping the footy out to Munster, who followed with a short one to Kenny Bromwich. Kenny didn’t even have to twist and spin through Walker and Tupouniua, so clinically did he dispose of them as he crashed over to bring Melbourne to 24 unanswered points once Hynes booted through the sideline kick.
If Hynes’ last kick had been underwhelming, then this was a perfect strike, sailing straight through the uprights. By this stage, it was hard to believe that we were watching first playing fifth, since Melbourne’s supremacy here wasn’t all that different from what they brought against the Tigers a few weeks ago. It felt like a small victory, then, when Tupou managed to contain Kaufusi’s next kick under pressure, rather than conceding another try or a fresh Melbourne set. Similarly, it was critical the Chooks finish this next set without a mistake.
Over the last ten minutes, the Storm had enjoyed 79% of possession, and had 9/9 completed sets, compared to the Roosters 1/1, while Lam only got to the kick in his own thirty, meaning Melbourne were back in Sydney territory on their first tackle. In fact, it felt like the Tricolours had barely touched the football by the time that Hynes drove it deep into the left edge, where Justin Olam seemed set to be the next Storm player to barge through the line, only to lose it into a desperate tackle from Suaalii, who got some joy after his own cough-up on the wing.
True to the spirit of this game, it didn’t take the Storm long to bounce back, as the Foxx bookended the whole first forty with a second try three minutes out from the break. Even better, Olam set it all up, bouncing back from his loose carry by scooping up a loose offload from Tedesco out to Tupouniua, and shifting it out to Ado-Carr, who was always going to surge his way up the left sideline and cross untouched. In doing so, he jumped ahead of Alex Johnston (17) and Maika Sivo (14) to become top tryscorer of the year with 18 to his name.
Hynes added the extras, and the Storm headed to the sheds with thirty unanswered points under their belts, while the Roosters had to do some serious soul-searching before they returned to the park. To their credit, they managed to keep the purple army to only sixteen points in the second stanza, although they wouldn’t score any of their own either. Once again, they found it hard to garner field position on the first set, despite a strong run from JWH, forcing Lam to boot it from the halfway line, which the Storm crossed again on tackle four.
The Chooks mounted some decent defence on this first Melbourne set, but the visitors were methodical in response, right down to the Hughes kick that trapped Suaalii in his ten, before Ado-Carr and Munster combined to drag him back another five metres. Meanwhile, JWH was more contained on the next set, forcing Lam to take the kick inside his own forty, before Manu was called offside in the ten, and the Storm moved beyond this opening grind for their first set entirely in the Roosters’ half – and their first really expansive acceleration since the break.
They were inside the ten midway through the set, where Kaufusi dragged four defenders a metre from the line, before Finucane bumped off as many players in a drive out to the right edge. Drawing on the potential of his opening two runs, JWH intercepted the footy, only for Munster to hit back just as quickly with a one-on-one strip to give his men another stint in the Sydney City thirty. In one play, Munster had absorbed this brief burst of Roosters energy and redoubled his men’s momentum, laying the platform for a Hynes crossver a few tackles later.
This would have been a perfect consolidation moment, but the try was denied due to an Olam obstruction on Tupouniua. Even so, Hynes’ barge through the defence had shades of Finucane’s try, and the run from Brandon Smith that preceded it, suggesting another four points were in the offing next time Melbourne got in position. The Roosters didn’t do much with their next set, barely breaking the thirty by the time Lam put boot to ball, which Jennings brought back like a man on a mission, fuelling Olam and Kenny Bromwich into two tough runs.
That opening platform galvanised Hughes into an unconventional kick on the fourth – a shallow chip out to the right wing, where Reimis Smith misread the bounce, and slipped while he was trying to tap it back to Jennings. Yet Hughes’ vision was ultimately justified, since the Storm were coasting on serendipity now, making their own luck, as they received six again when the Roosters got a hand to it, and shifted out to the left edge just as quickly, where Ado-Carr got his fifth hat trick, and the 98th try of his career, off the back of a short ball from Olam.
Full credit to Hynes, too, who started this surge into the left corner, showing the footy a few times to draw in both Walker and Manu to set up Olam for a two-on-one on the wing, even if he did miss the sideline conversion to keep Melbourne at a 34-0 lead. The Foxx had also reached Cooper Cronk for equal most Storm tries (92) behind only Matt Geyer (113) and Billy Slater at an extraordinary 190, while the Roosters had conceded the most points, by this stage of the game, since 2001 – a twenty-year low they had to redeem in the last half hour.
Hynes continued to flow on the restart, making twenty metres up the middle, and setting the stage for a Hughes chip at the twenty that Tupou took on the full. The Chooks’ horizon had shrunk to short-term goals now (most urgently, completing each set) so it was another small victory when Walker got to the kick inside his own thirty, although not without copping an awful head knock from Welch, who could have pulled back more efficiently. Everything boiled over now, as the rain started to thicken and Teddy came in to give Welch a piece of his mind.
Both Teddy and Finucane were warned, but everyone remained on the park, while the Roosters got the worst of this sequence, since it did look like Welch had somewhat led with the head. Nevertheless, they got the scrum feed, off an Ado-Carr error at the back of Walker’s kick, and then a much-needed restart off a ruck error from Brandon Smith. With so much adrenalin unleashed, the Chooks felt like they might score here, as Teddy drifted across the field, and then made up for a mid-set slump with a masterful chip that Hynes had to hit dead.
Sydney now had the first dropout of the night, entering the twenty on tackle one after Hynes opted to go short with the kick. They shifted right, where Teddy again found himself in a pivotal position, moving it back inside when he realised there was nothing doing on the wing, before Walker copped his second enormous tackle in as many sets, this time from Kenny Bromwich, and flicked the footy forward as a result – or so the referees called it, since from some angles this looked like it might just be flat, in yet another heartbreak for the Chooks.
To make matters worse, the Foxx came dangerously close to his 99th try on the very next play, when Kenny Bromwich broke through the line and booted it down to the left corner. Ado-Carr got there in time – or at least got to the spot where the ball should have landed, since the Steeden careened over the sideline too early. Yet even this disappointment couldn’t dent the flow of the Storm, who made a successful challenge a moment later to turn an illegal strip into a Daniel Suluka-Fifita error.
Tedesco looked genuinely agitated by this stage in the game, and almost blew up after insisting that the purple army had put in their request for a challenge too late. He had to deflect all that frustration back into defence though, since Kaufusi almost broke through the line early in the next set, before the Storm halves executed their most elegant combo so far. Hughes danced around Taukeiaho, pivoted off the left boot, and grubbered a mercurial trajectory for Munster, who chased it down to score the next try.
Munster seemed one with the Steeden here, or one with Hughes, so silkily did he converge himself with the flow of the football, setting up Hynes for an easy conversion from right in front. For the first time since 1908, a team had hit 40 ten times in a single season, while the only two teams to hit 40 nine times – the Broncos of 1998 and the Knights of 2001 – had gone on to win the comp. On the other side of the Steeden, Suluka-Fifita was lucky to only get ten in the bin for a late high shot on Munster, who left for a free interchange with Chris Lewis.
Munster returned a second later, and wasted no time in replicating Hughes’ grubber, this time to the left edge, where Tedesco contained it, but only just, coming to ground right on the try line as a cascade of Melbourners piled on top of him. Just as quickly as the Roosters got a restart, thanks to an offside from Aaron Booth, Tupou became the next casualty of the slippery football, as did Hynes in the first play-the-ball out of the subsequent scrum from the ten, giving the Chooks a chance to absorb more time with Suluka-Fifita in the bin.
Tedesco and Munster combined again at the end of the next set, although this time from long range, as Munster booted it from deep within his own end, striking it so precisely that Teddy had to wait for it right on his own try line. Hynes matched that fullback effort with a gymnastic catch beneath Drew Hutchison’s next kick, and chipped it beautifully at the tail end of the set, parlaying some deft backspin into the slippery surface to sit the Steeden up midway through the in goal area, where Teddy did just as well to bring it back into the field of play.
Ado-Carr now showed Hynes he could take it just as spectacularly on the ground, sliding onto his knees to contain a difficult Walker bounce. The Storm were back in the twenty by tackle four, where Hughes replicated his grubber assist, but Tedesco got the better of Munster this time around, capping off a particular heroic period for the Blues fullback. It was agonising, then, when Tupou made his second knock-on early in the count, setting up the Storm for their final try of the night just before Suluka-Fifita returned from the bin.
This set felt like a greatest hits package for Melbourne, as Kamikamica got them rolling in front of the posts, Hughes got away from Hutchison, Brandon Smith set up a crash play for Aaron Pene, and Chris Lewis reversed that last sequence by offloading out of a crash play back to the Cheese, who slammed over to make it eight tries in eight games, an amazing stat for a hooker. Hynes added his last conversion of the night, the Storm reached their final scoreline of 46-0 and the game relaxed into an error-for-error rhythm over the final seven minutes.
Even if Melbourne didn’t hit the half century this was still an extraordinary performance against the fifth ranked team in the competition, especially given Teddy’s mammoth effort in Origin. With the win, they’re at the fifth best streak in the modern NRL, behind their own record in 2012-2013 (15), along with the 2016 Sharks (15), the 2002 Bulldogs (17) and the 2020 Panthers (17). They’ve got nine days of lockdown before they meet Newcastle after the bye, while the Chooks will be looking to hit back big against the Dogs at Bankwest next week.