While there is no questioning the fact that Souths attack remains in woeful shape, the Bunnies weren’t helped by some mind-boggling calls at crucial times that saw them go down to the tired Storm 15-10. With 8 Storm players backing up from Origin it was always going to be a tough ask and Souths gave them an almighty challenge; putting on an impressive defensive show only to throw it away with poor last tackle options.
Souths while winning the overall penalty count were the victims of some shocking calls, starting with a blatant strip on John Sutton from 10m out. Sutton was unquestionably stripped of the ball by Steve Turner in full view of the video referee, only for Russell Smith to rule scrum from the video box and leave commentators and supports alike dumbfounded with the call. How the NRL continues to get away with incorrect calls with the benefit of video remains such a blight on the game, anywhere else in the world it would be investigated for suspicious dealings.
That wasn’t the end of the bad luck run for the luckless Bunnies, as they struggled to remain in touch with the Storm who were up by 4 points well into the 2nd half. With a towering bomb from Melbourne being spilled by Nigel Vagana only after a sleepwalker play from Matt Geyer which directly threw Vagana out of contention for the catch, allowing Jeremy Smith to scoop the spilled ball and score easily near the posts.
The sleepwalker play continues to remain under the NRL referee radar for the most part, with coaches instructing their team to send up the bomb and directing the first offensive chaser to simply make it look like he is contesting the ball, but rather bump or knock the fullback off the catch so the attacking team get a shot at the spilt ball. Melbourne pulling this off to perfection as the veteran Geyer made no attempt at the ball and hit Vagana hard in the air to shunt the Souths centre off the incoming bomb, allowing Melbourne to snatch what was to be a game winning lead.
The Storm were always going to struggle after last Wednesday’s Origin, but only regular five-eighth Greg Inglis failed to play tonight after picking up a knee injury.
The Rabbitohs have now won only one game from 10 starts this season.
It was 4-0 until the 58th minute with Melbourne scoring a first-half try through centre Will Chambers in a match Melbourne never really looked like losing.
Both sides were content to play safety first football and Cameron Smith knocked over a penalty goal in the 58th minute before second rower Jeremy Smith crashed over following a Cooper Cronk bomb in the 62nd to make it 12-0.
The Rabbitohs gave themselves some hope in the 72nd minute when their policy of bombing Storm full-back Billy Slater paid dividends, with Nigel Vagana winning a race to the ball and touching down.
But Melbourne half-back Cronk sealed the deal with a field goal with five minutes remaining to make it 13-6 before Smith booted a late penalty goal.
Vagana’s consolation try in the 79th minute after a short kick-off regather was too little too late.
Earlier, a bizarre incident soon after half-time almost extended the Storm’s 4-0 lead.
Attempting to defuse a Cronk bomb, Vagana pushed his five-eighth Dean Widders out of the way and the loose ball was almost dived on for a try by Chambers.
An out of sorts Melbourne spent most of the first stanza in their own half after some uncharacteristic errors, but Souths couldn’t make them pay as Widders struggled to ignite his backline and poor last-tackle kicking options failed to exert any pressure.
The Storm made it look easy in the 13th minute when five-eighth Matt Geyer put Chambers through a hole and the big centre strolled through Vagana to touch down.
Storm lock Dallas Johnson had been in doubt after yet another head knock on Wednesday night but was passed fit to play on Thursday.
“It probably looked a lot worse on TV than it actually was,” Johnson said.
“You don’t want to end up a vegetable after footy so that’s why I took the right precautions and I went right through with the docs and did the tests and they cleared me to play.
“Obviously I wanted to play but I put it in their hands this time.”
He said backing up was a tough proposition, but also credited Souths for their territorial dominance in the first half.
“You’ve got a few tender patches but the hardest part is probably the mental side of it,” he said.
“(Origin’s) a big game and it’s a tough thing to build yourself up, you’ve got to get you head right for that and then to come down after a loss and get your head right again for an NRL game is pretty tough.”
Souths coach Jason Taylor was upbeat with his side’s effort after their dismal loss to Canberra on Monday night.
“We’re as happy as you can be after losing a game because we came to Bluetongue Stadium tonight to get some pride back in our performance, to get some pride back in the jersey, the great jersey that we play in and the boys did that well.
“That’s the first step for us, we hit rock bottom last week.
“We came here and our motto was just let’s have a go.”