The Warriors remain a rabble. Sacking Kearney six days ago was a head-scratching decision looking from the outside in. That’s how it played out at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium.
“I question our commitment off the ball,” interim Warriors coach Todd Payten said. “Tonight’s performance was an indication of exactly where we’re at.
“We are a team that needs to have a sniff to kick on with it. When things go against we aren’t tough enough to dig ourselves out of it. I question whether – across the park – we had players that were willing to put their bodies on the line.”
One of sport’s great myths is that teams win the week after they sack their coach. In the NRL era, teams are 12-19 in matches the week after their coach departs.
In the first 15 minutes, it appeared as though the trans-Tasman nomads would end up on the right side of that ledger.
It was the next 65 minutes where the difference between the two clubs – not just the players – was exposed.
After repelling repeated raids on their own line, Melbourne scored 22 unanswered points to take a huge lead into the half-time break.
All it took was one brilliant burst from Josh Addo-Carr to turn the game on its head.
He claimed a grubber in behind Melbourne’s line and set sail for the Warriors’ line. It would have taken a brave betting man to back any of the Warriors to chase him down but that’s exactly what Peta Hiku did.
He floored the Melbourne flyer with a big shot but the Storm support was there in numbers and, a few passes later, Paul Momirovski scored his first try for Melbourne in his first game for the club.
A pair of seriously soft tries – one to Ryan Papenhuyzen and another to Suliasi Vunivalu – followed.
But the nail in the coffin came eight minutes before half-time when Ken Maumalo fumbled a Cameron Munster bomb, the crumbs were cleaned up by Vunivalu, he flicked the ball back to Papenhuyzen and the fullback sent the ball Momirovski’s way.
He had a double in his first game for the Storm and Melbourne had a 22-0 half-time lead. The 28-6 second half was a rout.
There were some very good signs for the Storm. They did not take their foot off the Warriors’ throat. That’s the sign of a hungry team.
Papenhuyzen had his best game of the season. Throw Jahrome Hughes and Addo-Carr into that category, too. Hughes has struggled to manufacture a stack of points so far this season but he had three try assists. His kicking game was clinical.
But there will be concern about Munster, who suffered an MCL injury and did not return for the second half. Coach Craig Bellamy confirmed the star playmaker will be sidelined for four to six weeks.
Melbourne are still unsure where they will be based from next week but are hopeful of confirming a move to the Sunshine Coast as soon as Saturday.
Their fellow NRL nomads have more serious problems to address.
Outside of a promising 15 minutes, the visitors offered almost no resistance when the Storm worked their way back into the match.
They threw in the towel as soon as the pressure was applied. Typically, that’s the sign of a team not playing for their coach.
Now that avenue has been exhausted, the Warriors’ brains trust must find another way to drag their team back to relevance.
Payten has only four or five players who weren’t in the squad for this thumping at his disposal. He fears others may leave Australia as early as the start of next week if the NRL isn’t able to secure exemptions for New Zealand-based families to join them in NSW.
“The thing that is getting them at the moment is the uncertainty around their families and whether they are coming over,” Payten said.
“Another hard thing is that Australian families are already here. They can see that around them.
“I’m not going to stand in their way [if players want to leave]. I don’t think any of them will stand in their way. But we will cross that bridge when we come to it.”
Sam is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.