What happened to last year’s premiers? The Storm have plenty of work to do

This article was first written for and published for The Roar.

Something very odd happened in the game between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Melbourne Storm yesterday but truth be told it was just one moment in a very bizarre afternoon of rugby league at Kogarah.

The Dragons were eventual winners of the game 34-14 and very well-deserved ones at that. After it appeared the Storm had turned a corner in the last three weeks with some dominant performances where they scored 21 tries in three games, the lack of ball control and overall ill-discipline we saw earlier in the season returned. It was difficult to watch.

As for the Dragons, if you had any doubts about whether they are the team to beat in season 2018, they should no longer exist in your mind. It’s time we all started talking them up without fear.

The Dragons were absolutely exceptional and are a beautifully put together football team, made up of forwards that can make metres up the middle like James Graham and Leeson Ah Mau, forwards that hit hard in defence like Tariq Sims, forwards with ball-playing ability like Jack de Belin and Tyson Frizell, and then some controlled halves and flair in the backline through the likes of Nene McDonald, Euan Aitken and Matt Dufty.

The only thing that possibly outshone the Dragons’ performance was the sight of a perfect autumn day with a heaving hill at Kogarah. A strong Dragons outfit is good for the game, with over 19,000 packing out the hill on Sunday afternoon.

The next couple of paragraphs are not intended to take away from St George’s performance. They were deserving winners.

St George Illawarra Dragons

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

But I want to take you to a couple of odd moments during the game.

The first was back in the 17th minute when Josh Addo-Carr was denied a certain try (and by certain, I mean he certainly crossed the try-line).

This call changed the course of the game. The Storm are unlikely to have won because they played poorly, but it certainly would have put the match on a different course. It’s rare that I give so much emphasis to one call, particularly because I am someone that believes that decisions in the game sometimes go your way and other times do not.

There was some miscommunication between the referees which, despite resulting in a favourable decision toward Melbourne, really ended up being an advantage for the Dragons because the Storm were unable to score off that ensuing penalty and had gone on to score if play had been able to continue.

Despite Addo-Carr diving over the try line for a certain try, we saw the play called back to award the Storm with a penalty because of an interference in Sam Kasiano’s play-the-ball by Cameron McInnes.

Apparently, Matt Cecchin did not hear the call made by assistant referee Chris Butler who was trying to call play back. Unfortunately by that point, Cecchin was following the ball as it went to Slater who then put it in the hands of Addo-Carr for a try.

According to the rules, play was unable to continue because the play-the-ball had been unacceptable.

After the decision was made, Cameron Smith was clearly ropeable. At one point, I thought he was going to get sent to the sin bin again for dissent. I can understand his frustration particularly because the advantage was meant to be in favour of his team.

Had that try been awarded, the scores could have been locked up at 10-10. Instead, play continued and the Dragons went into halftime with a 12-4 lead.

What a bizarre passage of play where, despite having scored in the corner from the ensuing play, the Storm eventually ended up with a penalty which saw them leave the Dragons’ red zone with no points because of ‘unacceptable conduct from the defender’.

I wonder how this decision changed the course of the game and what impact it had on the Storm mindset for the remainder of the game because they didn’t really recover.

We could talk about this decision for the rest of the week, but the reality is the Storm did themselves no favours for the rest of the game. Their performance was marred by constant errors, ill-discipline and forward pass after forward pass. Melbourne conceded 11 penalties and made 14 errors in an effort that can be best described as ‘scrappy’.

It was one of those games where I wish Fox had an option to press the red button for ‘Bellamy cam’.

Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy

(AAP Image/Paul Miller)

It was also one of the first times I’ve ever felt for the Storm as a team, particularly when I saw Cameron Smith collapsed in the defensive line after he was hit below the belt by Jeremy Latimore, leaving a gap for McInnes to go through to score another Dragons try.

I’m wondering if that conduct will be reviewed by the match review committee later this week, particularly after Smith made reference to it post-match.

Credit to Craig Bellamy, who used his time in the post-match press conference to admit the obvious – the Storm still have some work to do to catch up to the Dragons who he called ‘the benchmark without a doubt’.

Despite an afternoon for the Storm that they would certainly rather forget there, was one shining light: Josh Addo-Carr.

As a Blues fan, I’m hopeful he has done enough to have earned himself a place in the New South Wales State of Origin squad.

He scored a hat-trick yesterday and now has nine tries in his last four games. He’s also scored at least two tries in his last four games. His speed and ability to find the try line would be very welcome in the Blues squad.

Where to for the Storm from here? They must draw a line in the sand and forget that game against the Dragons as quickly as possible. They head back to Melbourne now for their next game on Saturday night against a desperate Gold Coast Titans squad.