The Melbourne Storm have beaten South Sydney 22-8, becoming one of the only teams to actually win a tight game since the NRL returned with its new set of rules and interpretations.
- The average winning margin since the league returned has been 23.1 points, almost double the average in the first two rounds
- Melbourne scored twice in the final 15 minutes to blow the lead out to 14 points after a scrappy clash
- Earlier, the Panthers hammered the Warriors 26-0 in Campbelltown
Blowouts and late routs become a hallmark of the ‘new’ NRL, with the Tigers’ 28-16 win over the Sharks the smallest margin of victory in rounds three and four so far.
Through the first 10 games since the resumption, the average winning margin was a whopping 23.1 points, including three wins to nil, and as yet no team has won a game by fewer than 12 points (or two converted tries). That is compared to an average point differential of 12.6 points through the first 16 games of the season.
And while Friday’s win was a hotly contested affair, a late Justin Olam try pushed the margin out to 14, meaning last Sunday’s 14-14 draw between the Panthers and Knights remains the only game that was not decided by a healthy margin since round three kicked off.
Friday night’s game in Melbourne may have been more gripping than some clashes this season, but it was certainly messy.
The Storm struggled when they got good field position, particularly early in the game, so it was not overly surprising that their first try came from their own defensive half of the field, after late inclusion Brenko Lee sent Suliasi Vunivalu down the blindside wing.
He found fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen back on the inside, who dove in for the opening try, but the Rabbitohs hit back soon after thanks to a beautiful pass by Latrell Mitchell that put Alex Johnston in space, with the winger producing a sensational leap to plant the ball in the corner.
Neither side could break the other’s tryline defence, so again the Storm had to do it from the wrong side of halfway.
Cameron Munster provided the spark in the 34th minute when he burst through the Rabbitohs and went 40 metres before finding halfback Jahrome Hughes, who attempted an audacious grubber despite having numbers outside him, and Vunivalu touched down when Johnston failed to mop up.
It ensured Melbourne held a slim lead at half-time and it seemed to have been extended six minutes after the break, when Hughes sliced through the middle from 10 metres out. But the Storm’s disjointed attack came back to bite them when the bunker ruled one of the Storm decoy runners had obstructed Damien Cook in the lead-up.
Rabbitohs halfback Adam Reynolds squared the ledger soon after, with a penalty goal on the back of a Christian Welch strip.
But the Storm returned serve as Cameron Smith put a kick between the sticks for the first time on the night, potting a 33-metre penalty goal after South Sydney was penalised for taking out Papenhuyzen before he had the ball.
After Souths seemed intent on handing the ball back any time they got it, eventually ending up with 18 errors on the night, the Storm scored a decisive try in the 66th minute when Munster, who was one of the Storm’s best on the night, found Josh Addo-Carr with a pinpoint cross-field kick.
Smith slotted the sideline conversion to push the lead out beyond a converted try and with 10 minutes left came up with a try-saving tackle on Dane Gagai out on the wing, where Addo-Carr would normally be defending if not for what looked like an injured rib.
Another Munster line break in the 77th minute ended in the try to Olam to push the lead out to a decisive margin.
Earlier on Friday night, the league hosted its third game since coming back where one of the teams was kept scoreless, as the Panthers thumped the Warriors 26-0.
It was a complete reversal for the New Zealand side after their first week back, when they embarrassed the Dragons 18-0.