The Melbourne Storm have catapulted into premiership favouritism after a 38-point lead at half time paved the way for a dominant 50-10 win over the Warriors at AAMI Park on Wednesday night.
The Storm versus Warriors ANZAC Day clash has become one of the most highly anticipated games of the regular season. Tonight's clash was no exception with Stephen Kearney's men heading to AAMI Park off the back of a stellar 6-1 start to their 2018 campaign. They were facing a Melbourne side who were coming off back-to-back victories over the Knights and Broncos. Injuries to Shaun Johnson, Tohu Harris and Solomone Kata meant that the Storm started as decisive favourites but many were still expecting a tight contest. What the packed AAMI Park faithful witnessed in the first half, however, was anything but close as the Storm raced out to an unbelievable 38-0 lead at the break.
Melbourne turned entertainers in last week's 34-20 win over Brisbane and they maintained that tag in the opening stages of Wednesday night's encounter. A cross-field kick by Billy Slater in the third minute was taken by Young Tonumaipea and the winger calmly slotted a grubber infield for Ryley Jacks who snatched it to open the scoring. 10 minutes later Melbourne had their second when a Cameron Munster grubber sat up for Ryan Hoffman after David Fusitua failed to clean up the kick. A penalty saw the Storm march upfield on the following set and a short ball from Munster to Christian Welch saw the lock stroll through for Melbourne's third of the night. It started to get embarrassing very quickly when the Storm went back-to-back after Curtis Scott broke through the line and found Josh Addo-Carr in support who linked with a soaring Slater. A couple of minutes later Melbourne had their fifth - this time Felise Kaufusi steamed down the right edge and put Tonumaipea over in the corner. The next four-pointer, however, would have been the most disappointing to concede for coach Kearney. Out of nowhere, Addo-Carr sprinted 70 metres out of dummy-half and past numerous Warriors defenders to score and suddenly the score line read 36-0 in Melbourne's favour with eight minutes on the clock. A late penalty goal saw the Storm head into the sheds with an unassailable 38-0 lead.
The Warriors appeared far more committed in defence in the second half and made a statement early when a nicely executed right edge spread saw Fusitua dive over in the corner. The speedy winger had a double soon after when a near identical play saw him fly over in the 59th minute. Despite an improved display in the second forty, the Warriors could not avoid conceding the dreaded half century. First, a bullet-like ball from Slater sent Addo-Carr over for his second in the 62nd minute before Slater was the creator again, this time putting Jacks over the line in the 74th minute for a double. The full-time siren sounded and the Storm had raced away to claim a dominant 50-10 win.
Both sides were not without injury concerns, however, with Isaac Luke (leg) and Curtis Scott (ankle) both failing to finish the game.
Next week in the undeniable game of the round the Storm travel to Jubilee Oval on Sunday afternoon (May 6) to take on the table-topping Dragons. Meanwhile, the Warriors will look to bounce back when they return home to face the Tigers on Saturday afternoon.