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MELBOURNE Storm hooker Cameron Smith celebrated his 250th game in style as his side went on an emphatic 38-6 demolition of Cronulla in front of 16,231 fans at AAMI Park.
The Storm led 28-0 at halftime before cruising through the second half, with Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Ryan Hoffman all given an early mark by coach Craig Bellamy in the final quarter of the match.
Smith conceded the enormity of the occasion for himself was the main factor in completing the full game; "Normally I would have come off, but it was a good night to stay out there for my 250th."
"I don't think I could have asked for anything more from the team. We are back to where we need to be."
A scintillating first half performance from the home side took just nine minutes to commence before centre Maurice Blair finished off a sweeping backline move following a scrum courtesy of a Cooper Cronk 40/20 kick.
NSW representative Ryan Hoffman burst through some flimsy goal-line defence from the Sharks 10 minutes later and the signs were ominous that the Melbourne Storm were on their game following their Round 12 bye which allowed coach Craig Bellamy to freshen up his troops.
Three tries in quick succession leading up to the halftime interval sent the home fans into raptures. Kevin Proctor extended the Storm lead out past two converted tries when a Cronk cross-field bomb was knocked on by Cronulla winger Sosaia Feki. The rangy second-rower gleefully accepted the loose ball, muscling his way alongside the posts.
Arguably the best try of the match was scored by Tohu Harris in the 31st minute, but it did require some luck for the home side. Cronk kicked on the last, aiming to put the ball into the corner however it rebounded off the legs of Jonathan Wright. With the ball spinning around in no-mans land, Cronk won the race to the ball just ahead of Cronulla fullback Michael Gordon, scooping up possession before delivering a speculative one-handed effort which was juggled by Harris on his way to the tryline. It was his first try of his career.
The first half pointscoring blitz concluded in the shadows of the break courtesy of five-eighth Gareth Widdop. The purple tidal wave of possession continued to mount on the Sharks goal-line and they couldn't stop Widdop from fending away from Todd Carney to score in the corner.
It seemed only a seagull was capable of stopping the rampant Storm. As captain Smith was about to move in to convert the fifth try of the opening half, the rogue seagull disrupted his preparation. After having to compose himself, the conversion hit the upright in one of few blemishes in an otherwise dominant first-half performance.
The hosts then went into cruise control for the second half on the back of a record where they had won 129 of 133 matches when leading at the break under coach Craig Bellamy.
From the ensuing kick-off Widdop was again in the thick of the action when his sublime short ball saw centre Maurice Blair race downfield before drawing fullback Gordon and sending Slater on an untouched 40m run to the tryline.
With the match beyond doubt, coach Bellamy then gave halfback Cronk, Ryan Hoffman and Slater an early mark before Beau Ryan scored the Sharks only try of the evening, sparing them the embarrassment of being held scoreless.
Speaking after the game, the Storm coach was pleased with the effort of his side, in particular his State of Origin representatives who backed up. "These guys have been (backing up) year in, year out and the guys who stayed here in Melbourne had a really good week's preparation as well."
Next week the Storm tackle the Knights at AAMI Park on Sunday while the Sharks return home to clash with the Eels on Saturday night.
Melbourne Storm 38 Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 6
Venue: Melbourne Rectangular Stadium
Halftime Score: Melbourne Storm 28-0
LeagueUnlimited.com Players of the Match:
3 points - Gareth Widdop
2 points - Cameron Smith
1 point - Billy Slater
MELBOURNE STORM (38)
Tries: Maurice Blair, Ryan Hoffman, Kevin Proctor, Tohu Harris, Gareth Widdop, Justin O'Neill, Billy Slater
Conversions: Cameron Smith (5/7)
CRONULLA-SUTHERLAND SHARKS (6)
Tries: Beau Ryan
Conversions: Todd Carney (1/1)
LeagueUnlimited.com Live Commentary
Interchange: 14. Jason Ryles 15. Tohu Harris 16. Junior Moors 17. Jordan McLean 18. Brett Finch 19. Tim Glasby 20. Kenneath Bromwich
Sharks: 1. Michael Gordon 2. Sosaia Feki 3. Ben Pomeroy 4. Jonathan Wright 5. Beau Ryan 6. Todd Carney 7. Jeff Robson 19. Sam Tagataese 9. John Morris 10. Ben Ross 15. Jayson Bukuya 12. Wade Graham 14. Chris Heighington
Interchange: 8. Andrew Fifita 11. Luke Lewis 16. Isaac De Gois 17. Anthony Tupou
Cooper Cronk kicks a 40/20.
Cooper Cronk comes up with a 30/10 to put the Storm on the attack where he will feed a scrum for his side.
Scored by Maurice Blair. Conversion attempt by Cameron Smith successful.
Maurice Blair opens the scoring here tonight! The Storm swept play to the left side after the scrum with Cronk finding Widdop who put Blair through a yawning hole. Smith adds the extras from out wide.
Melbourne Storm 6-0
Scored by Ryan Hoffman. Conversion attempt by Cameron Smith successful.
Hoffman extends the Storm's lead! Again they ran a second-man play to the left side before Widdop found his second-rower on a straight line through some flimsy Cronulla defence. Smith adds the extras from beside the posts.
Melbourne Storm 12-0
Scored by Kevin Proctor. Conversion attempt by Cameron Smith successful.
Proctor scores the try next to the posts after Feki spills a Cronk bomb. Smith again adds the extras.
Melbourne Storm 18-0
Scored by Tohu Harris. Conversion attempt by Cameron Smith successful.
Harris scores another try for the Storm! Cronk kicked on the last and the ball rebounded off Wright into his arms before he flicked a speculative one-handed pass into the arms of the replacement who scored his first try of his career. Smith converts from beside the posts.
Melbourne Storm 24-0
Scored by Gareth Widdop. Conversion attempt by Cameron Smith unsuccessful.
Widdop gets his name on the scoresheet and the carve up continues. Smith darted out of dummy half and found Widdop who pushed away from Carney to score. Smith hits the upright after a seagull put him off.
Melbourne Storm 28-0
Scored by Justin O'Neill. Conversion attempt by Cameron Smith unsuccessful.
O'Neill continues the one-way traffic after Widdop grubbered into the in-goal. The Storm winger picked up the rolling ball before placing it in the corner. Smith's conversion swings across the face of goal.
Melbourne Storm 32-0
Scored by Billy Slater. Conversion attempt by Cameron Smith successful.
Billy Slater scores almost from the kick-off! Widdop delivered the short ball to Blair who burst into the back field before drawing Gordon and putting Slater on an unimpeded sprint to the try line. Smith gets the radar back on track from alongside the posts.
Melbourne Storm 38-0
Scored by Beau Ryan. Conversion attempt by Todd Carney successful.
Beau Ryan gets his side on the board with the Storm defence finally cracking. Luke Lewis played an integral role in the try with his cutout pass finding Ryan who kept his width before running 20m untouched. Carney adds the extras.
Melbourne Storm 38-6