It has long been known that in the finals, the Melbourne Storm take things to a new level and their 40-12 win over the Manly Sea Eagles proved just that.
The only concern for the Storm will be a nervous wait on Brandon Smith, who is set to undergo scans on a possible facial fracture.
Even coach Des Hasler – who loves a good mind game – talked the Storm up as impossible to beat.
The start for the Storm was electric as they would score three tries in the opening thirteen minutes to put all the pressure back on Manly.
The Storm’s first try came on the back of an errant pass by Manly half Daly Cherry-Evans.
Brandon Smith scooped it up and found Issac Lumelume on his inside who had just enough pace to get to the try-line.
Just a few minutes later, a nicely worked play on the left saw Cam Munster and Kenny Bromwich combine.
The back-rower would go over to score and the bunker confirmed his try, a rare one for Bromwich in 2021.
A white rhino would then power through a gap to score as Christian Welch barnstormed his way over off a Smith pass from dummy half.
Up 18-0, Manly needed something, anything, to get themselves back in the game and after a disallowed try for a forward pass, they soon had one.
Cherry-Evans chip kick saw Jason Saab leap highest and over Lumelume to give Manly their first points.
Not to be outdone, however, the Storm would nab another try before the half-time break via Ryan Papenhuyzen.
Papenhuyzen, who came into his own last week after his return from a concussion, scored a try we all are accustomed to seeing from him.
He turned on the jets, flew past Cherry-Evans and other Manly defenders, and raced over to score.
If Manly wanted to claw their way back early in the second half, the exact opposite would happen.
Justin Olam made a bust down the left edge with a huge fend on Morgan Harper before Harry Grant found Papenhuyzen inside for his second try.
A strange play by Manly that saw Reuben Garrick kick the ball down the field off a 20-metre restart gave them their second try.
Though had Lumelume not knocked on, you would wonder if the play was worth it. Saab was there to pounce for his second as a result.
A rather ugly tackle by Josh Schuster saw him put on report and Jahrome Hughes leave the field for a HIA.
The Storm put Hughes’ absence behind them, though, as they capitalised on the penalty to score again.
Nelson Asofa-Solomona powered his way towards the line, got his arm free, and found Olam who had a simple canter towards the line.
Just to rub salt in Manly’s already open wound, Papenhuyzen slotted a ‘disrespectful’ 40-metre field goal to give the Storm a 40-12 win.
Storm coach Craig Bellamy praised his side and especially Papenhuyzen, who, he knew would need time to find his feet after his return.
“What we know [Papenhuyzen] can do, we didn’t know how long that would take physically [to return],” Bellamy said.
“But the mental part… no one had any certainty on how long that would take to come back.
“The last two weeks he’s been pretty close to what we expect of him and what we know of him.
“He was tremendous tonight. He came up with the big play of the game with his try right on half-time.
“Manly was sort of getting back into the game there.”
Des Hasler criticised his side’s ill-discipline and silliness and put that down as the major reason behind Trbojevic’s lack of prowess.
“You look at possession, you look at where our possession was – they made us come out of the corner the whole time,” said Hasler.
“We didn’t make them chew up any gas, we leaked them down the field both with our ill-discipline with the ball and also giving away too many penalties. It was nine in total tonight.
“It’s just not going to get it done. We weren’t smart enough.”
NRL News Player of the Game
3. Justin Olam
2. Christian Welch
1. Ryan Papenhuyzen