Rabbit-proof defence: Storm deny Souths again
“I was a lot happier with this week’s performance than last week but having said that the opposition made plenty of errors which made it a bit easier I suppose,” Bellamy said.
“We were rocking and rolling but we still managed to find a way to stop tries. Cameron [Smith] stopped a couple of tries, one in the corner [on Gagai] was a massive play as it would have got them back within two points.
“Our effort areas were a lot better tonight, our contact was much better and that was a real positive. We are still struggling with our attack but we’ll keep working at that.”
South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett said his side’s effort levels were good but their ball retention let them down.
“I’m disappointed,” Bennett said.
“We gave a lot of effort but our execution didn’t give us a chance.
“It was pretty horrific [the errors]. We went 10 from 10 to start with then after that you tell me [what happened], I have no idea.”
The Storm made their intentions clear before kick-off, announcing mobile forward Brandon Smith (168 centimetres) would start at prop for the suspended Nelson Asofa-Solomona (200cm), and Brenko Lee making his club debut at centre in place of Marion Seve.
Teacher and playmaker Chris Lewis made his NRL debut with the Storm in a bench role. At 27, he was the oldest debutant in club history.
While the Storm couldn’t invite Lewis’ parents to attend the game as spectators, the club found a loophole – having them fill roles as official ball retrievers working from up in the stands.
With a more mobile line-up, the Storm went about using their improved mobility by attacking the South Sydney front line and on eight minutes they found the line.
Newcomer Lee showed he was already in sync with Vunivalu, flicking a pass wide to the Fijian winger who broke down the right sideline before passing back inside for full-back Ryan Papenhuyzen to score.
Things almost boiled over when Storm star Cameron Munster took exception to a crude tackle but that was quickly forgotten as Rabbitohs star Latrell Mitchell started to put his fingerprints on the contest.
Mitchell threw an outstanding cut-out pass to winger Alex Johnston who leapt into the corner and scored the try with an Adam Reynolds conversion making it 6-4 to the visitors on 16 minutes.
Mitchell could have set up a second try later in the half but the ball slipped from his fingers.
On 33 minutes the Storm again took the lead as Munster broke the line at halfway, eventually firing a pass wide right to half-back Jahrome Hughes who wanted to pass to Vunivalu but couldn’t, instead putting in a grubber kick towards the corner which bounced up, hit the hands of a Souths defender and spilled into the grasp of Vunivalu.
Melbourne took an 8-6 lead into half-time and looked to have extended their lead in the opening minutes after putting together three straight sets before Hughes burst over close to the line. But his score was ruled out due to some questionable obstruction from young forward Tino Fa’asuamaleaui.
The Rabbitohs looked relieved and Reynolds took a penalty kick from close range to tie the scores at 8-8, but Cameron Smith took a penalty of his own minutes later to make it 10-8 at the hour mark.
The Rabbitohs were earning extra possessions but repeatedly found themselves losing the ball after Storm hits or an interception from Vunivalu.
That wastefulness cost them on 65 minutes as Munster put an inch-perfect kick over the defence and into the path of winger Josh Addo-Carr, who only needed to catch then touch down to score. Smith’s conversion made it 16-8.
Gagai was denied by Smith and minutes later Johnston’s try was ruled out due to a clear obstruction on Hughes.
Lewis played the last seven minutes, even finding time to flash a quick smile to his mum as he ran onto the field. While the Storm wanted to find him a try, instead he proved the decoy as Smith and Addo-Carr teamed up to send Justin Olam in to cap off the victory.
Roy Ward is a Sports writer for The Age.