The battle of the competition heavyweights on the ladder had many anticipating a hard-fought, dogged battle. However, with the absence of Gareth Widdop, it was the Storm who capitalised and held their nerve to record a comfortable win.
The 34-22 victory in Wollongong was on the back of stellar games from a trio of Storm back-line stars; Suliasi Vunivalu, Billy Slater and Josh Addo-Carr.
The win was an exclamation mark on their premiership credentials and a warning to all other teams.
Bursting out of the blocks and putting on a show inside the first 25 minutes, both Vunivalu and Addo-Carr scored doubles before a double from fullback Slater capped off a solid win for the Melbourne side.
Persistence was the key as the Storm continued to pepper the Dragons right and left side defences, scoring seemingly at will at one point.
There was some small hope at the back-end of the half as centre and winger combined for the Dragons, with Tim Lafai passing for Jason Nightingale to score.
That was short-lived, though, as Billy Slater crossed for his first try of the afternoon, ending a scoring drought dating back to Round 9, 2015.
A record was then broken soon after as Cameron Smith, one of the games’ most prolific point-scorers, broke the record for the most goals in premiership history by one player with 943 goals.
The game threatened to turn on its head when Cooper Cronk was binned for a professional foul with 10 minutes to go but it was too little too late to mount a serious comeback for the Dragons.
Whilst they tried their best courtesy of tries to Cam McInnes, burrowing over from dummy half and a hat-trick to Nightingale, followed by a late Tariq Sims try, it was not enough in the end.
The Dragons are perennial fast-starters and in order to combat that, Storm coach Craig Bellamy knew that his side had to come flying out of the gates.
“We wanted to start well because they’ve started all of their games really well this year. We knew if we came here and didn’t start well that we’d be chasing them all day,” Bellamy said.
“I didn’t really expect that we were going to get that far ahead so it was a really good effort from our blokes. That half was probably about as good a half as we’ve played this year; unfortunately, we couldn’t keep it up in the second half.”
He also praised his back-line trio for their form and consistency so far this year.
“They were tremendous, and they’ve been really good all year,” Bellamy said.
“Billy just seems to get a little bit better each week, Suli is unbelievable – he could be anything – and Josh has really come out of the ground this year after coming to our club so we’re really happy with how those guys are playing.”
Forced to play Kurt Mann as a makeshift half in the absence of Widdop, his play drew praise from Dragons coach Paul McGregor.
“I thought Kurt played well. Attack-wise he’s a threat – the way he runs the footy,” McGregor said.
“His education will come through training in the next couple of weeks and he’ll hold that spot for a while until ‘Gaz’ gets back.”
Player of the Game:
3. Billy Slater
2. Josh Addo-Carr
- Suliasi Vunivalu
Storm 34 (Suliasi Vunivalu 2, Josh Addo-Carr 2, Billy Slater 2 tries; Cameron Smith 5 goals) def. Dragons 22 (Jason Nightingale 3, Cameron McInnes, Tariq Sims tries; Josh Dugan 1 goal) at WIN Stadium. Half-time: 22-4. Crowd: 12,377