Brisbane?s experiment of playing boom youngster Karmichael Hunt at five-eighth in place of rested Australian captain Darren Lockyer showed glimpses of promise on a night when Melbourne confirmed their finals credentials again in 2005.
Melbourne, playing an at times risky and off-the-cuff game, dominated the second-half to win 24-10 after the sides had gone to the break with Melbourne ahead by 16-10. Brisbane will, however, take something out of the game with solid performances by Barry Berrigan and the new second-row pairing of Sam Thaiday and Corey Parker and with Brent Tate and Justin Hodges finding some cohesion in the backline early in the match.
A pulsating first half saw the intensity of this game diminish in the second stanza with early season fatigue playing a part on a warm Gold Coast evening.
Thaiday opened the scoring for Brisbane after Melbourne fullback Billy Slater failed to regather a delicate kick; Brisbane having obtained good field position through the penetrative work of newcomer Leon Bott on the right flank. Brisbane second-rower Parker converted to give Brisbane an early lead of 6-0.
Brisbane continued to dominate field position early in the first half when Barnes, Hunt and Parker combined to force Melbourne into a line drop out in the 10th minute. After more good work from Hunt, giant Broncos winger Tame Tupou was pushed into touch only centimetres out.
At the 15th minute mark, one of Hodges? few blemishes appeared when he juggled, then lost, another deep kick from Melbourne?s clever half Matt Orford. Steve Turner grounded the ball inches inside the touch in-goal line for Melbourne?s first try. Turner converted excellently from the sideline to equal the scores at six apiece.
Next Melbourne pressured Brisbane again, with Ryan Hoffman held up over the line after another sublime Orford pass split the Brisbane defence. But this was only an entree to the try of the game.
Melbourne, building pressure all the time, threatened to score again with another well placed kick in general play. Brisbane, gathering the ball through Hodges only metres out, went wide through Kangaroo centre Brent Tate, whose superb round-the-corner pass gave Bott a fraction of space to work in. Bott tore down the sideline beating the determined Melbourne cover defence to record a magnificent 85m Brisbane try. Parker?s unsuccessful attempt at goal did not do justice to the quality of the Brisbane attack.
As if spurned on by this, the Storm hit back immediately with first Matt King being held just short and then Melbourne combining for another wonderful try, with Scott Hill?s silky skills laying on a flick pass for Ryan Hoffman, who sent Steven Bell away on a 70m special from the southerners. Turner tacked on the conversion for a 12-10 Melbourne lead in the 30th minute.
After Hodges went close, Melbourne scored the final try of the half when Orford?s chip was grasped fortuitously by trailing prop Jeremy White.
With the NRL applying special rules on account of the heat, three minutes of the first half was lost when the timekeeper seemed to lose track of the clock.
Brisbane regained some momentum after the break, although this was disrupted with Justin Hodges knocking on after sustained Brisbane pressure.
The next ten minutes showed why Melbourne has the potential to cause major problems for the other premiership contenders. First Slater and then Geyer were instrumental in long breaks out of their own quarter, the first involving a deceptive run around and the second, quick hands along the line. Petero Civoniceva, captaining Brisbane in the absence of Darren Lockyer and Shane Webcke, gave away a desperate penalty right on the stroke of time for the three quarter heat break.
Three minutes after that interval, another glorious inside pass saw Slater score his usual try and even without the conversion, Melbourne had set up a match winning lead at 20-10. A further try ten minutes from time sealed the result for the Storm.
While both sides showed they were a little ring rusty, Melbourne looked the most cohesive of the sides and at times threatened to tear Brisbane apart with the same scintillating attacking football that was a feature of their play in 2004.
Another near capacity crowd at the Gold Coast?s antiquated stadium demonstrated the support for the game in this corner of the world. Certainly the Gold Coast Dolphins, the much longed for candidate for entry to the NRL, showed a real presence in the crowd with jerseys and memorabilia both on sale and on show.
And with the 2003 Grand Final replay between the Roosters and the Panthers on show again next week, the NRL look likely to sit up and take notice.Like