MELBOURNE last night returned to their relentless best against a South Sydney side that was simply outclassed. Craig Bellamy’s men ran in four tries to one and handed their well-fancied rivals a 24-6 beating in a performance that will have them pushing for favouritism for the title given they now have a two-week rest and a home preliminary final.
Souths, making their first finals appearance since 2007, were only in this game for as long as it took the Storm to open the scoring – and that was early in the first half, after they had weathered an early offensive from the visitors.
After that it was one-way traffic, and Souths did not even get on the scoreboard until Eddy Pettybourne spared the Sydneysiders’ blushes with a try seven minutes from time. Ryan Hoffman’s toughness epitomised the Storm’s desperation when he recovered from an early knock-out to put his side in front in the seventh minute. The Storm stretched the advantage to eight points in the 13th minute when Cameron Smith kicked a penalty goal. Greg Inglis, for so long a favourite of the fans in purple, is now the poster boy for the Rabbitohs, but there was little in the way of threat from the superstar in the opening period. In fact, one of his best moments came when he intervened to deny Mahe Fonua a first NRL try as the Storm piled on the pressure.
It paid dividends for the home side in the 23rd minute when Billy Slater went over and, after a delay for the video referee, the all clear was given for another try. Smith’s kick stretched the lead to 14 points but worse was to come for the Rabbitohs in the shadows of half-time.
Fonua, the first player to have come through the Victorian junior development system and progress to first grade, got his first NRL try in his first final after being set up by some good approach work by Storm’s English five-eighth Gareth Widdop. The move happened because of a mistake by South’s winger Nathan Merritt, who knocked on the ball to give the Storm possession in a dangerous position, but it would be unfair to single out that error as numerous teammates made other blunders at critical points of the opening half.
The improbable became the impossible for the Rabbitohs soon after the interval when the Storm’s pace and movement opened them up again, Widdop once more feeding the winger, this time Sisa Waqa, in space on the right. Smith’s conversion made it 24-0 and Storm could afford to take a breather and look ahead to the preliminary final.
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