A Johnathan Thurston-inspired Cowboys outfit got the jump on the home side, scoring the opening try and adding two more to only trail by two at the break – but the premiers clicked it up a gear in the second stanza, running in six electrified four-pointers.
Three of those went to five-eighth Greg Inglis who continued his State of Origin heroics with a dazzling display.
But despite the dominant scoreline, Melbourne skipper Cameron Smith described the match as “the most boring” he’d been involved in, referring to the Cowboys tactics of slowing play down.
Coach Craig Bellamy also chimed in, accusing North Queensland’s Thurston and Ray Cashmere of feigning injury.
Thurston probably needed a breather after battling the flu during the week, which wasn’t helped by a nine-hour trip to Melbourne after his side’s flight was delayed and diverted.
“They all continued to play … it wasn’t hard to see what they were doing,” Bellamy said.
“At the end of the day they were good tactics but it made for a boring game.”
Thurston was under an injury cloud heading into the game, but underlined his toughness by not only turning up to play, but laying on the game’s first try for Mark Henry with a perfectly-weighted bomb to put the Cowboys up 4-nil after four minutes.
A rampaging Jeremy Smith squared the ledger in the 12th minute off the back of a penalty, and Cameron Smith’s conversion put the defending premiers where everyone expected them to be – in front.
But they weren’t there for long, Thurston’s magic boot engineered another try for the visitors, this time a flat kick for winger John Williams to hand the Cowboys back a two-point advantage.
The only area Thurston was struggling was goal-kicking, missing two difficult conversion attempts.
The Storm gave a stark reminder of their attacking ability when Matt Geyer delivered a deft pass for Billy Slater to streak 60 metres and score in the 26th minute, with Smith’s extras giving Melbourne a 12-8 lead.
The Cowboys were playing an intelligent game, kicking to touch to avoid the Storm’s dangerous broken field runners, but it didn’t seem to bother the titleholders, who continued to launch attacking raids from well within their own half.
An impressive break from Israel Folau was followed up by a Cooper Cronk cross-kick that was fielded impressively by Greg Inglis, who released Geyer for the Storm’s third try of the night in the 35th minute.
North Queensland continued to chance their arm, and it paid dividends from the restart when they regathered a short kick off that they parlayed into points courtesy of a rampaging Carl Webb.
Thurston added the extras from in front to cut the deficit to 14-12 at half time.
Melbourne started the second half with a visible lift in intensity, and looked to have crossed through Steve Turner in the 42nd minute, but the Origin winger was ruled to have lost the ball over the line.
The got on the board for real shortly after when Israel Folau powered his way over from close range, Smith’s conversion kicking the Storm out to a 22-14 lead.
The premiers were starting to get a roll on, and when Inglis swatted Thurston off with ease to go over for the Storm’s fifth, a shellacking was on the cards.
The plays that were coming off earlier in the game for the Cowboys were starting to go against them, an attempted short kickoff was pulled back for offside, and Melbourne were in again shortly after through Turner, with Smith’s conversion making it 32-14 to the home side with 24 minutes to play.
A brilliant offload at the line from Brett White put Inglis into space in the 67th minute, and the Queensland Origin star did the rest, beating three Cowboy defenders to score Melbourne’s seventh.
The home side went in again straight from the restart through Turner, and Inglis added insult to injury when he scored his second when he snatched an intercept and streaked 50 metres to score, Smith’s conversion taking the Storm tally to 48.
Ray Cashmere added a try in the dying seconds to round out the scoring – making the infalted scoreline look a little more respectable and giving coach Ian Millward something to smile about.
“I thought their effort was really great,” said Millward.
“I didn’t think the scoreline reflected the effort that the players put in tonight and I think we can hold our heads high.”
MELBOURNE 48 (G Inglis 3 S Turner 2 J Smith B Slater M Geyer I Folau tries C Smith 6 goals)
NORTH QUEENSLAND 20 (M Henry J Williams C Webb R Cashmere tries J Thurston 2 goals)