Almanac Rugby League – A clinical win, an expected loss

The Knights hadn’t beaten the Storm in Melbourne for seven years and despite Melbourne losing their last two matches of the regular season, this Knights fan was pretty confident of another loss being added to that record.

The first fifteen minutes was fairly back and forth. The Knights looked to exploit Melbourne’s up and in defence by moving the ball around, changing angles and attacking the wings and they looked to be getting the better of the early exchanges but they just couldn’t capitalise. Gidley put Costigan away down the left edge only to have Costigan throw a forward pass to hand over possession.

A few minutes later the Knights looked to spread the ball again. A Stig cut out pass to Costigan was dropped with Duffie scooping up the loose ball and racing 40 metres untouched to open Melbourne’s account against the run of play.

The Knights continued to chance their hand but it was all sideways movement without too much direct attack through the middle. Subsequently their play was riddled with soft turnovers while for the Storm, they had completed 11 from 12 sets as their baseline and were happy to sit back and wait for the numerous Knights errors.

The Storm’s superior wrestling ability in the tackle enabled them to control the tempo of the game in defence for the most part but when Newcastle started going straighter up the middle, they were able to get the Storm back pedalling and create a few opportunities in and around the ruck. Costigan went close to scoring and the intensity of the Knights appeared to be rising but an ordinary kick on the last by Mullen released any pressure that had built up.

The Storm machine got back into the grind and drove up field on the back of penalty. The Storm then put together one of their first passing movements of the game which was so well drilled it looked like they were on the training paddock with no opposition in front of them. Smith to Cronk, cut out to Proctor, run around to Slater, pass to Champion. It happened so fast and seamlessly that the Knights had no chance to stop it. The Storm had created a two man overlap with a simple four pass manoeuvre.

It was now the 30th minute and I had well and truly realised the difference between the two teams.

The Storm had put together a record winning streak to take the minor premiership while the Knights hadn’t played anymore than 40 minutes of football in a match for a month and still, they somehow scraped into eighth position. Now was the time that I was hoping it wouldn’t blow out into an embarrassment. My only chance was that the Storm would just try to complete their sets and defend their way to victory. I was wrong.

A cross field kick by Cronk came down pin point perfect right on the try line. Nielson and Slater both attempted to bat the ball backwards and Uate tried to outleap them but was unable to clean it up. From the ensuing scramble, the ball appeared to bounce off MacDougall and into Manu’s arms only for the big second rower to dive over the try line to give the Storm their third try of the afternoon just before half-time.

The second half went as I was hoping. The Storm went about their completions without a big emphasis on scoring points and the Knights kept throwing the ball around without ever appearing threatening. Finally, in the 64th minute the Knights got back to back sets before a simple line run from Gidley sliced through the Storm defence from close range. Was this some sort of comeback?

From the next set, the Storm gave the Knights a piggy back out of their own territory and another simple left to right movement which ended with a beautiful Mullen cut out pass to Uate gave the Knights their second try in as many minutes.  Were the Knights back?

Sadly, the answer was no. The Storm rolled through their sets with minimal errors while the Knights tried to keep the ball alive but kept coming up with the crucial error or the poor kick.

The full-time siren sounded and the curtain was drawn on the Knights season and Adam MacDougall’s career. The Storm get the week off and move one step closer to redemption. The Knights will now look to next season and wonder what will be achieved under the reign of Bennett.

Venue: AAMI Park

Crowd: 14,845

Votes: 3-Smith (MEL), 2-Slater (MEL), 1-Cronk (MEL)

Milestones: Adam MacDougall’s last game

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