In their first game since the controversial sacking of coach Stephen Kearney, the New Zealand Warriors had to take on a Melbourne Storm side sitting four points and seven places clear of them on an increasingly desperate looking ladder.
Both sides came into the game on the back of losses in round six, the Storm losing out to the high-flying Panthers while the Warriors were heavily defeated by the Rabbitohs.
Both sides made a number of changes; Melbourne brought in Hughes, Addo-Carr and Momirovski while the Warriors recalled Harris-Tavita, Papali’i, Curran and Maumalo.
The Warriors went close twice early on, the first attempt being in touch and the second a dropped ball in the act of scoring but it was the Storm who opened the scoring when Addo-Carr picked up a grubber near his own line and broke downfield. Great support play saw Melbourne attack in numbers with the final pass from Cameron Munster finding Paul Momirovski who slipped, but still got over the line, to score on his debut. Cameron Smith was unable to add the extras.
Melbourne hit on the break again after twenty-five with a fifty metre try. Ryan Papenhuyzen made the space before finding his winger Suliasi Vunivalu in space to go twenty metres down the right wing to score without the defence getting near him. This time Smith hit the target to put his side into a 10-0 lead.
Within the blink of an eye the Storm made it three tries. Papenhuyzen was the scorer this time as he scooted from acting half-back to score from two metres through a disorganised Warriors defence. Smith added the conversion and despite having most of the possession and position in the first half they were in all sorts of trouble on the scoreboard.
Momirovski got his second try on thirty-two, again in an acre of space down the right, after Vunivalu had palmed back a cross-field kick before gathering and passing into the hands of Papenhuyzen who passed neatly into the hands of the debutant centre for him to run down the wing. Smith’s kick was pinpoint accurate from the touchline for 22-0, a devastating blow for the Warriors.
Three minutes after the restart the Warriors finally opened their account when Patrick Herbert stooped to take a dipping pass and score by the right corner flag. Chanel Harris-Tavita converted from wide for 6-22.
Normal service was resumed on forty-seven for the Storm as Papenhuyzen took a Jerome Hughes pass to dip the shoulder and run the angle to score. Smith was unable to add the extras from the touchline.
It was all too easy on fifty-five when Vunivalu got his second as the Warriors failed to deal with a grubber kick with Momirovski picking up the bouncing ball and passing to the winger to walk in for the four-pointer. Smith added the two pointer for 32-6.
On fifty-nine the Storm got their seventh try of the night with Vunivalu grounding a grubber to score an easy hat-trick four-pointer. Smith added the conversion as the scoreline looked increasingly awful for the Warriors.
Melbourne went through the forty on sixty when Brandon Smith burrowed over from acting half back to score under the sticks. Cam Smith kicked the conversion for 44-6, a baptism of fire for new Warriors coach Todd Payten.
Just over five minutes remained when Cam Smith put in a grubber which was hacked forward and then grounded by a diving Josh Addo-Carr. Smiths boot brought up the fifty as New Zealand heads dropped even further.
Melbourne were devastating on attack, and despite trailing for almost the entire game in terms of field position, they were clinical with the ball in hand and demolished a Warriors side who are looking increasingly in disarray. The Storm back line had a party through some lacklustre tackling to secure a big win to go third in the table.
Melbourne Storm: Papenhuyzen (2T), Vunivalu (3T), Olam, Momirovski (2T), Addo-Carr (T), Munster, Hughes, Bromwich J, Smith C (7G), Welch, Kaufusi, Bromwich K, Finucane. Subs: Smith B (T), Faasuamaleaui, Eisenhuth, Asofa-Solomona.
New Zealand Warriors: Tuivasa-Sheck, Herbert (T), Beale, Hiku, Maumolo, Nikorima, Green, Blair, Lawton, Faamausili, Murchie, Papali’I, Harris. Subs: Taunoa-Brown, Harris-Tavita (G), Paasi, Curran.
Referee: Ben Cummins.
Ground: Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Sydney.