“The stadium operates under a site-specific COVID safe plan approved by Queensland Health and includes having Queensland Police in attendance. Today’s attendance of 5437 was inside the 50 per cent capacity approved by Queensland Health for sporting events of this nature in Queensland.”
Capped crowds have been allowed into NRL matches for almost two months now but the images were a bad look on a day in which Victorians were dealt news stage four restrictions would be implemented for the next six weeks.
Melbourne’s win – their sixth straight – was also bitter-sweet due to a shoulder injury suffered by Cameron Smith.
The Melbourne skipper scurried off the field after scoring a try in the first half.
After a few minutes of mystery as to what may have happened to the future Immortal, the Storm confirmed their captain would not return due to a low-grade AC joint injury.
Post-match, coach Craig Bellamy said Smith could miss two to three weeks.
On the other side of the ledger, Newcastle coach Adam O’Brien was “proud” of his team’s effort despite having dropped three of their last four games. While they did put patches of impressive football together, their inability to turn pressure into points during stretches of possession in the opposition’s half remains an issue.
That seems strange given Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga are two of the first names on the team sheet but Adam O’Brien has done very little work with this team’s attack. He has worried about defence and let the attack take care of itself.
Right now, that approach isn’t working for the Knights. Only Penrith are playing better football than the Storm right now but Craig Bellamy’s side did not have to stretch themselves to walk away from Sunshine Coast Stadium with two points.
That was without Smith for the second half, too.
It took the Storm precisely 190 seconds to score their first try, through Suliasi Vunivalu. It was methodical, but it was also far too easy.
Smith’s try came after 20 minutes in which Newcastle were on the front foot.
Melbourne weathered the storm and, eventually, Kenny Bromwich split Newcastle from inside the Storm’s half.
He brushed a flying Josh Addo-Carr in support to find Smith on his right to score his 46th career try.
While the rugby league world was still wondering what had happened to Smith, Ryan Papenhuyzen picked up a Ponga grubber off his bootlaces, stepped his superstar opposite number and ran 90 metres at full pace to score the Storm’s third try.
Leading 18-6 at the break, word emerged from the Storm sheds that Bellamy would send Smith back into the fray if Newcastle were to mount a comeback.
Ponga put Aidan Guerra in to give the visitors some hope with 18 to play but Tino Faasuamaleaui then crashed over to put the result beyond any real doubt, despite a late consolation to Enari Tuala.
The comeback never eventuated and Smith never returned.
The Storm are simply flying.
Their defence is world class. Cameron Munster is in career-best form. Papenhuyzen produces one brilliant moment after another. And their pack – which is forever underrated – can go toe to toe with any other.
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Sam is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.