Melbourne Storm thrash Manly Sea Eagles in first finals game of 2021 NRL season
The power and precision of a rampant Storm blew the disjointed Sea Eagles off the park with a rampaging Brandon Smith suffering a facial fracture and starring in a master blaster opening to the qualifying final before Ryan Papenhuyzen cut loose.
Melbourne won 40-12 on the Sunshine Coast and fired a warning shot to the rest of the premiership contenders after taking control by halftime with a 24-6 lead. The Storm completely nullified the threat of Manly superstar Tom Trbojevic who for once did not make an impact and was forced into desperation plays when the game was slipping away.
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Back-rower Josh Schuster was put on report for an innocuous lifting tackle on Jahrome Hughes in the second half but that was the least of Manly’s worries with their premiership hopes now on the rocks.
Smith was a runaway block of cheese in 18 minutes of mayhem before failing an HIA.
“They think he might have a facial fracture,” Storm coach Craig Bellany said.
“It doesn’t look like it is displaced. We will have to get the scan and see what happens from there but knowing Brandon he’ll do everything he can to play (in the preliminary final).”
The stage was set for fullback Papenhuyzen to unleash and he did exactly that with two scintillating tries either side of the break.
Trbojevic was hardly sighted in open play by the time the Storm had shot to a 16-0 lead in as many minutes with tries to Isaac Lumelume, Kenny Bromwich and Christian Welch.
The Sea Eagles were given an absolute footballing lesson and were on their knees when Papenhuyzen put the foot down to reveal that he well and truly has his mojo back.
Manly winger Jason Saab scored two tries from kicks to take his season tally to 25 but the Sea Eagles have plenty to fix before the sudden death semi-final against the winner of the Roosters v Titans clash.
“We did ourselves a real disservice. The things you can’t do against the Melbourne side, we did,” Manly coach Des Hasler said.
Captain Daly Cherry-Evans had an off night but of more concern was the way Welch, Dale Finucane and Nelson Asofa-Solomona manhandled the pack.
The Storm are sitting pretty to defend their title and now have a fortnight’s break to give winger Josh Addo-Carr time to recover from a hamstring complaint.
Bellamy said he would be fit to play in a fortnight and was also stoked with his side’s display against Manly.
“You could feel there was energy in our side this week and we played like that tonight,” he said.
Trbojevic did not make a line break and had just one tackle break. The Storm defenders sliced him down around the boots and made sure when he got the ball he was surrounded, and kept it up for the entirety.
Never has the hopes of one team seemingly rested so much in the palm of one man’s hand. Before the game Melbourne co-captain Dale Finucane said his side had detailed plans to stop Trbojevic. Those plans worked a treat.
“The players spoke at half-time that we’d did a good job in the first half but it is in the second half that he flourishes and they did a good job in the second half,” Bellamy said.
Smith’s opening salvo was as powerful and productive as any that he’s had this year. He was simply dynamite. He swooped on a loose ball early to send Lumelume away. His sleight of hand pass to put a barnstorming Welch over was one Cam Smith would have been proud of. Throw in his energy and scything defence on Trbojevic early. His cameo set the scene for what followed.
In Cameron Munster’s 150th NRL game for the Storm the talismanic five-eighth showed no signs of the knee wound that led to him spending a night in hospital.
This was Munster at his most unselfish and as the ultimate team player. He had two try assists by halftime when the game was on the line and assumed the role of on-field general with aplomb.
“He came up with some big plays and I couldn’t have been happier with him,” Bellamy said.
Originally published as Melbourne Storm thrash Manly Sea Eagles in first finals game of 2021 NRL season
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