Storm sink Dragons in 82-point shootout
DARREN Nicholls waited 10 years for this one.
But as for his St George Illawarra Dragons … well, their long wait for success against Melbourne down south continues.
Without a win in the Victorian capital since 1999, the Dragons worrying hoodoo is set to continue for at least after year after they were beaten 52-30 by the Storm at AAMI Park.
And no prize for guessing who brought them undone.
For while all the headlines leading into this one were, quite rightfully, devoted to halfback Nicholls - the qualified schoolteacher making his NRL debut aged 29, and after humping his swag through a dozen clubs like North Sydney, Wyong, Redcliffe, even Toulouse - the match belonged to a bloke older than dirt.
Melbourne captain Cameron Smith.
Truly, the old bloke was in everything.
Throwing for tries, kicking for tries, everywhere.
And while the Storm cracked 50 points, this game truly was a belter.
Even with St George were missing five players to State of Origin. And Melbourne, six.
But still the first half alone gave us seven tries.
All up, twice that.
And so many of them outstanding.
Like the impossible put down out wide by Dragons winger Nene MacDonald. Or a touchdown to Storm halfback Brodie Croft all fast feet and thumping step.
And how good the one-one-one strip from Euan Aitken?
Better, it went like this almost all night.
Melbourne would score, then St George Illawarra reply.
Not once. Or twice.
But five times.
And all while the warring captains - Smith and the Dragons Gareth Widdop - continually came up with the big plays.
But then with 13 minutes to play, Storm scored their sixth. Then seventh.
For the St George Illawarra, five-eighth Widdop was outstanding.
While Nicholls was solid on debut - producing a couple of spiralling torpedo bombs boasting more movement than Terry Alderman - the Dragons No. 6 was brilliant.
Apart from orchestrating two tries and playing a key hand in a third, the Englishman also landed five conversions, three from the sideline.
For the Dragons first try, Widdop upset the Melbourne defensive line when, as the ball was being played, he moved from the left side of the ruck to the right, effectively creating the extra man for a backline sweep that would see Kurt Mann score in the corner.
And then nine minutes later, he threw a long Harbour Bridge pass to set MacDonald away.
And for Storm?
As usual, Smith was everywhere.
There was a surprise long kick which, when recovered, led to the home side's second try. And a smart ball to Ryley Jacks in traffic which eventually resulted in their third.
And yes, his decision to kick a loose ball backwards late in the first half proved problematic. Especially when Aitken eventually stripped it from Croft for a try.
But midway through the second half, with the scores again locked, this time 24-all, it was again the Storm skipper who orchestrated the break that eventually saw Young Tonumaipea score a try.
For St George Illawarra, the beginning of the end.
MELBOURNE 52 (C Blair 2 B Croft R Hoffman J Hughes R Jacks C Scott Y Tonumaipea S Vunivalu tries C Smith 8 goals) bt ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 30 (K Mann 2 E Aitken L Leilua N MacDonald tries G Widdop 5 goals) at AAMI Park. Referee: Matt Cecchin, Gavin Reynolds.