Despite the Storm notably missing Billy Slater through injury, as well as the departures of Tohu Harris, Jordan McLean and most notably Cooper Cronk, the storm commenced their title defence with a first-round victory over a new look Bulldogs team, with new coach Dean Pay at the helm. The Dogs threw plenty at the Storm, however; it was the class of the Storm which would eventually prevail.
We look at the five key elements from the match.
1. Storm continues dominance minus some notable absentees
The Storm were without some notable key players such as forwards Jordan McLean and Tohu Harris, who respectively departed for the Cowboys and Warriors over the summer. Moreover, this would be their first NRL match without long-time halfback Cooper Cronk, who now plays his trade with the Roosters. In addition, they were without custodian Billy Slater through yet another shoulder injury.
Yet none of these factors appeared to have any effect on the Storm, who appeared to handle anything that the new look Bulldogs could throw at them. They were able to assert their dominance to establish a 24-12 lead at the interval, to eventually run out 36-18 winners. There were moments in the second half where the Bulldogs appeared to have the ascendency, but the Storm demonstrated their class as they consistently do, by scoring against the run of play to regain the ascendency.
In doing this, the Storm not only demonstrated their quality, but have now won all of their opening round matches under current coach, Craig Bellamy.
2. Bulldogs have plenty of room for improvement
New Bulldogs coach and club legend Dean Pay was full of praise for his side’s effort against the defending premiers, however, in the end, the final scoreline reflected the gulf in class between the two sides. At the same time, the match was actually closer than the 18 point difference suggests, given that The Dogs had the ascendency, particularly late in the second half, but for a couple of late Storm tries which inflated the scoreline.
This led Dean Pay to emphasize that his side showed that they are more than capable of playing good football and mixing it with the best. Moreover, he was optimistic that this display could set them up nicely in their next encounter against the Roosters, as well as the remainder of the season.
However, Pay also said that where they were kicking and where they finished their sets were not overly helpful to their cause. Moreover, their inability to capitalise on their opportunities proved to be their downfall as well. As such, these are the factors which must be addressed, in order for the Dogs to return to where they believe they belong, which is in the top half of the ladder.
3. Munster proves his worth as a key player
Despite the absence of Slater through injury and the obvious departure of Cronk, Cameron Munster proved his worth as a key player for the Storm, given his strong involvement in the Storm’s victory. Munster was influential in two of the Storm’s first half tries, through the use of his dynamic footwork in setting up the tries for Josh Addo-Carr and Kenny Bromwich.
Moreover, Munster would have a hand in the final try of the match for the Storm. Given the absence of Slater from the match, he would find himself playing in the fullback position, a role he has previously played in when standing in for Billy Slater. With this display, Munster was able to silence his critics, who previously found voice, given the off-field issues which previously surrounded him.
4. Mbye better suited in the custodian role
In previous seasons, Moses Mbye had played in the halves for the Bulldogs, which proved to be rather ineffective. In this game, with Matt Frawley and new recruit Kieran Foran playing in the halves, Mbye was shifted to the fullback position by Dean Pay. This proved to be a masterstroke, as he would rediscover some of his dynamic spark against the powerful Storm, as exemplified by his early 50 metre dash with his first touch.
He was ably assisted by Foran, who demonstrated sharpness about his game which was sorely missing last season. Foran combined well with his halves partner Matt Frawley, as both demonstrated promising signs that the Dogs can implement a more exciting brand of football for the season.
5. Perth given a treat of an opening round
As well as the earlier match between the Rabbitohs and Warriors, the locals of Perth were also treated to a match between the defending premiers, the Storm, and the new look Bulldogs. Although the crowd was not quite at capacity and just below 40000, it was still a solid turnout given that rugby league is not the primary sport in that part of Australia.
Moreover, these matches further emphasised the need for more rugby league matches to be played in the west. In addition, this is further justification of Perth’s worthiness to host a State of Origin match, which will occur in 2019.