Written by Oliver Kellner-Dunk
We kicked off the 2021 NRL finals series by adding another chapter into the storied rivalry between the Melbourne Storm and Manly Warringah Sea Eagles, who have played each other in many memorable matches, including other finals games and two Grand Finals in 2007 and 2008.
The minor premiers Melbourne were favourites heading into this game, but there were plenty of fans who believed that Manly could cause one of the biggest upsets this year, as we pondered the question, will the best team of the 2021 regular season reign supreme or the team with arguably the game’s best player?
Melbourne came out of the gates firing, putting the pressure on Manly for the first five minutes before a Morgan Harper mistake led to Isaac Lumelume cruising over to score, with Cameron Munster then throwing a block ball out to Kenneath Bromwich which opened the Sea Eagles’ goal line defence right up and allowed Bromwich to score the Storm’s second try in ten minutes.
Just four minutes later Cameron Munster would get a clean one on one strip that gave Melbourne a prime try scoring opportunity that they would take advantage of when Christian Welch crashed over to make the score 16-0, with Brandon Smith going off for a HIA after a head clash not long after and the New Zealand International would not return.
Manly’s lock Jake Trbojevic would then make an uncharacteristic move by deliberately not clearing the ruck after giving away a set restart which led to a penalty being given and Melbourne taking the two to go up 18 to nil.
PAP BREAKING ANKLES 💀😮
— Fox League (@FOXNRL) September 10, 2021
With around ten minutes to go in the half, a Jahrome Hughes escort allowed Manly to camp down in the Storm’s 20, which would eventually result in Jason Saab going over in the corner off of a Daly Cherry-Evans high ball.
Tom Trbojevic did not touch the ball for the entire time the Sea Eagles were on Melbourne’s line.
Melbourne would score another try just two minutes before halftime when a poor defensive effort from Manly on their line saw Ryan Papenhuyzen breeze over to score.
At halftime the Storm were up 24-6 and the Sea Eagles were lucky that they weren’t trailing by more, as Melbourne were ruthless in defence for the entire first half and managed to contain Manly’s superstar Tom Trbojevic perfectly.
Just four minutes into the second half Melbourne would expose Manly’s defence from 70 out with some beautiful support play that led to Papenhuyzen getting his second try of the night, with the Sea Eagles looking rattled after Tom Trbojevic was manhandled by the defence at the start of the half and a poor error from captain Daly Cherry-Evans.
The Sea Eagles would receive a get out of jail free card when Isaac Lumelume failed to recover the ball from a Reuben Garrick kick down field when unmarked which resulted in one of the game’s fastest players Jason Saab scooping up the ball and scoring a double.
Jahrome Hughes would then be checked for a head injury after being spear tackled into the ground by Josh Schuster who was put on report, but was cleared and did not have to go off for 15 minutes, and was soon followed by Dylan Walker who was substituted for a HIA which was a big blow for Manly as he was their best player to that point; however, he would return.
A Tom Trbojevic high tackle on Hughes then allowed them to kick another penalty goal.
Melbourne would maintain near total control for the rest of the game, scoring another try and continuing to contain Tom Trbojevic, who for the duration of the game was a non-threat that became easily frustrated leading to some silly mistakes made by the New South Wales State of Origin representative.
Cameron Munster on the other hand put on a Rugby League masterclass, leading his side around the park and making big plays.
The final score would end up 40-12, with Melbourne now 80 minutes away from a sixth NRL Grand Final appearance in ten years.