It was Craig Bellamy versus Adam O’Brien as the Melbourne Storm welcomed the Newcastle Knights to the Sunshine Coast Stadium, with the visitors looking to move up to sixth on the ladder.
The Storm started with the ball and easily marched themselves up the park, but it seemed the Knights would hold out the early barrage.
Or so we thought, Felise Kaufusi committed Hymel Hunt to tackle him and pushed the ball out to Selise Vunivalu to score in his eighth consecutive games.
Cameron Smith converted to make his 15 seasons in a row to score 100+ points.
The Knights were desperate for some early possession, and they managed to pick some up and showed their class instantly.
Bradman Best picked up the ball on the left edge, pushed off Marion Seve, and then stepped past Ryan Papenhuyzen and pull the Knights back into the game.
After scoring, the Knights looked more comfortable, as their forwards were winning the ruck and getting away quick play-the-balls for the likes of Mitchell Pearce and Connor Randall to make some yards.
In the 15th minute, Kalyn Ponga ran at Cameron Smith, which dragged in Cameron Munster, which left space out wide for Hymel Hunt on the right but the pass was just too heavy for the winger and the score remained 6-6.
Just before the 20th minute, Cameron Munster glided through the Knight defence on his own 30-metre line, which put Melbourne on the front foot, with the set resulting in a goal-line drop-out.
Newcastle held firm though with Hunt burrowing Josh Addo-Carr over the touchline.
With 15 minutes to go until the break, Kenny Bromwich broke from the half-way line and had just Ponga to beat.
He had Addo-Carr on his outside but opted to pass inside to Cameron Smith who did just enough to evade the tackle from the covering Enari Tuala to score.
Smith converted his own try to make it 12-6.
Despite the Storm looking the more comfortable team, the Knights were desperate to pick up their second.
The hopes of levelling up were dashed though as Ponga’s fifth tackle kick was picked up on the run by Ryan Papenhuyzen, who then stepped his opposite number and accelerate away from his own 20-metre line to outpace Best, Tuala and co. to score.
Munster would take over the kicking duties due to a shoulder knock to Cameron Smith but missed the touchline attempt.
At the very end of the half, Melbourne peppered the Knights line, as Brandon Smith’s kick caused carnage with Aidan Guerra unable to claim it cleanly before it was picked up by a teammate in an offside position.
This gave Munster the chance to add the two and make it a 12 point advantage at the break.
HALF-TIME: Melbourne Storm 18-6 Newcastle Knights
The opening ten minutes of the second half was all Newcastle, but the Storm was too strong in defence to hold them out.
That ten-minute spell of dominance came to an end when Jahrome Hughes was taken out late by Pasami Saulo following a kick, and Saulo was sent to the sin-bin for a dangerous tackle.
Phoenix Crossland was the penalised for being offside, which allowed Munster to keep the score ticking over as Melbourne took a 14-point lead.
Having held off the Storm with a player disadvantage, the Knights got themselves back into the game just after the hour mark.
Kalyn Ponga took the ball to the line, and sucked in Cameron Munster, popped the ball the Aidan Guerra who twisted beyond Munster’s desperate lunge and dropped over the line to score.
Ponga converted to cut the deficit to eight.
Newcastle made an error straight from the kick-off though as both Kurt Mann and Crossland let the ball bounce over the dead-ball line.
At the end of the resulting set for the Storm, Munsters high kick into the corner was claimed by Vunivalu, but the winger failed to ground the ball while twisting out the tackle of the Knights defence.
That wouldn’t stop the home side though.
Christian Welch offloaded to Brandon Smith to run at the Knights defence on the retreat and popped the ball to the onrushing Tino Faasuamaleaui to barge over.
The Knights didn’t lie down and accept defeat though. Pearce and Mann combined to create space in behind for Mann to kick along the floor for Tuala, who gathered the awkwardly bouncing ball off the floor and dot down in the corner.
Being ten points down meant Newcastle had to push their luck.
Hymel Hunt did he best to stay in the field of play on the right edge, but Josh Addo-Carr powered him over the whitewash, and a minute later, Tuala was ushered out after claiming a crossfield kick from Pearce.
FULL-TIME: Melbourne Storm 26-16 Newcastle Knights
Papenhuyzen, Vunivalu, Seve, Eisenhuth, Addo-Carr, Munster, Hughes, Welch, C. Smith, J. Bromwich, Kaufusi, K. Bromwich, Finucane
Interchanges: Asofa-Solomona, B. Smith, Faasuamaleaui, Hynes
Tries: Vunivalu, C. Smith, Pepenhuyzen, Faasuamaleaui
Goals: C. Smith (2/2), Munster (3/4)
Ponga, Tuala, Moga, Best, Hunt, Mann, Pearce, Klemmer, Randall, J. Saifiti, Fitzgibbon, Guerra, Barnett
Interchanges: Crossland, King, Saulo, Ese’ese
Tries: Best, Guerra, Tuala
Goals: Ponga (2/3)
Referee: A. Gee
Touch Judges: D. Munro, T. Smith
Video Referee: B. Galea
Image Source: @NRL (Twitter)