ANALYSIS: Melbourne have never fought, the Souths have never beaten them at all
Melbourne’s ability to dive deep shows no signs of slowing down. On a tough assignment in South Sydney, against a Bunnies side that seemed to be finding form, they produced another back-to-the-wall performance like the one they’ve put on for over a decade.
18-10 was the final score, but it was not an 18-10 game. Another night, against another team, Souths might have scored 30 points. But this Melbourne–Souths never beat Melbourne. 32 of the 38 times they have met, the Storms have won.
They took advantage of two-thirds of the territory and 40 tackles in the 20m zone against only 18 of the Storm. They had more yards and more line breaks, more ball and more territory. And yet, they leave with nothing.
It was a performance of ultimate efficiency from Melbourne. They transformed their first position into points, then their two seconds. They robbed one from a distance early in the second half. And then they attacked each other for their lives.
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Harry Grant was at his best stealing yards where he could and Josh King not only grabbed a try but made a gigantic effort down the middle, making 50 uninterrupted tackles.
Souths attack, usually so powerful, had no answer. They came close on occasion and could have won more than once later.
Alex Johnston nearly had it but ended up blocked by Nick Meaney, cutting a head clash in the process that will see him out of next week’s Good Friday meeting with the Bulldogs in politics of 11 days on concussions.
Jason Demetriou will miss the miss here. They did enough to win, but didn’t score any points. It’s all about Melbourne, and how they got there, because they still do.
The storm never fought
During Jason Demetriou’s pre-game press conference, he mentioned how tough this one was going to be. “They don’t fight” was a major theme, as it has been for the entire Craig Bellamy era.
It was a classic example. With the ball, Melbourne barely made a mistake all night, got their kicks and transferred the pressure to Souths.
On defense, they produced line speed that unsettled Bunnies lag plays, and when line breaks came, they scrambled superbly.
Nick Meaney and Tui Kamikamica threw their bodies over the line to deny attempts they had no right to stop. With the game in play, Harry Grant produced another.
There was a period where six of seven sets were on their line, but Melbourne’s line did not fold.
The strange evening of Mitchell and Munster
Latrell’s first half consisted of a few wild passes, two retirements and a conversion. He only did three litters and that was about it.
Cameron Munster was no different. He had also been ineffective, but the five-eight came to life in the second half with a line break that should have been a try, then a support run that was.
It is inevitable to compare the two given their oversized personalities. Certainly Munster was the man who brought his side to life when they needed it, while Latrell barely started until after the hour mark.
It was the quietest of silent debuts for the Bunnies’ main man. He has yet to score a try or take a line break, and it’s now been three straight weeks since he’s produced anything like his usual standard.
Granted, it’s hard to maintain that level all the time, and the Souths have faced fierce opposition, but it’s now a trend rather than a few nights off.
There is a larger tactical point here. Last year, when Mitchell was missing due to injury, Souths played too close to the defensive line and, as a result, made many mistakes.
It was again fully effective tonight, with Latrell largely absent as a running threat, Melbourne was able to get up and block the baseline, undoing the deadly changes that produce so many of the Bunnies’ best moments.
He finally arrived, sending Campbell Graham out for a try, but it was too little too late.
When Mitchell finally came into life, he did so on the back of Tom Burgess. The prop struck 25 minutes to start – it was 6-6 when he started – and came back in the 52nd minute with the score 18-6 in Melbourne.
His second stint was as dominant as it could be. He won ruck and ruck, finding his front among several tacklers. Damien Cook entered the game, darting behind the game balls that Burgess was able to win.
A lot of what the Souths do is play points, in which they place one of Burgess or Keaon Koloamatangi on a front line, drawing defenders to a set location, then use that to implement their movements. Mitchell’s tryout for Graham was a perfect example.
The tale of two rookie wingers
Souths and Melbourne can boast two of the NRL’s best fliers in Alex Johnston and Xavier Coates, who average nearly one try per game between them.
But it wasn’t the PNG pair that were the center of attention tonight. Will Warbrick and Izaac Thompson, who collectively have a grand total of 12 freshman appearances, dominated wide play with a string of great runs and defensive intent.
Indeed, they largely eclipsed their more illustrious counterparts: Warbrick brushed off AJ for a first-half try, while Coates managed to commit the cardinal sin of catching a missed short abandonment before he had traveled ten meters.
Warbrick was mitigated in the second half by a clear injury problem – he was on the pickle juice for a cramp with over 20 minutes to go – but Thompson kept coming on mercilessly. They were sorely lacking in backline counters last year, but seem to have found their solution.
He might have won too, but for Grant’s tackle. His moment passed when Warbrick took his own, albeit encouraged by Johnson’s poor tackle.