The Rabbitohs flew into Melbourne having never won down there in 15 previous visits. They jumped on a flight home having lost a sloppy game 22-8, succumbing to a slightly better Storm outfit, led by a brilliant Cameron Munster display.
Both teams were hoping to re-start their 2020 season having lost their opening games of the resumption. Storm coach Craig Bellamy was embarrassed by his team's efforts against the Raiders last week and he won't be all that much happier with their performance tonight.
The Round 4 clash started with both teams throwing jabs in centrefield, with both making early errors. It wasn't until nine minutes in that the Storm spread the ball just inside their own half. Quick hands found winger Suliasi Vunivalu in the clear down the right hand touchline. He drew fullback Latrell Mitchell before finding Ryan Papenhuyzen trailing perfectly in support to score out wide. Cameron Smith missed the conversion, leaving the home team with an early 4-0 lead.
The Rabbitohs next threatened with a passing movement ending just metres from the Storm line. The Storm took possession and the Rabbitohs muscled up in defence to almost force them back into their own in-goal area, but a miracle pass saw Josh Addo-Carr escape. He rose gingerly clutching at his ribs, before both teams exchanged sets of six, with neither looking at their best.
In the seventeenth minute with the Bunnies on the attack again, Mitchell chimed into the backline with a brilliant catch and pass effort which darted across the face of centre Braidon Burns to find Alex Johnston on a sprint for the corner. Johnston had plenty of work to do, diving full length to ground the ball as his body was pushed into touch. A bunker review saw the try awarded and Adam Reynolds was able to convert from the sideline to take the Rabbitohs to a 6-4 lead.
The Storm were looking alarmingly disjointed with the ball and in the 21st minute they spread it ten metres out from the Rabbitohs line to Josh Addo-Carr's wing where a forward pass and a knock-on saw the ball back in South Sydney's hands. On their next set of six, a sloppy play-the-ball saw the Rabbitohs on the attack again. Solid defence held them out as a noticeably busy Mitchell lost control of the ball five metres out.
The Rabbitohs were having the better of play and were on the attack again 26 minutes into the game. Reynolds danced around with the ball near the Storm line before floating a pass to Liam Knight. The play came to an end with a handover before the Rabbitohs successfully challenged, alleging Jesse Bromwich had touched the pass. It meant little as the Rabbitohs dropped the ball on the first tackle, giving the Storm a chance to breath. Every Storm player apart from Addo-Carr, who by now was nursing an obviously painful rib injury.
Three minutes later, with the Storm attacking the Rabbitohs line, Cameron Munster floated a long cut-out pass which went straight to a Rabbitohs defender. It was very un-Storm-like play, which had Bellamy shaking his head in the coach's box. A Rabbitohs handling error saw the Storm back on the attack, but they finished the set without a kick, handing the ball back to the Bunnies.
The next time the Storm had the ball, a piece of Munster brilliance tore the Rabbitihs apart up the middle of the ruck on halfway. He cut back, floated a pass to halfback Jahrome Hughes, who put a grubber kick through for Vunivalu to regather and dive over. Smith missed another conversion from out wide to leave the score 8-6 in Melbourne's favour.
After a recent spate of non-competitive matches, it was a pleasant change to see a game still up for grabs by halftime. The Rabbitohs had a further opportunity to attack before the break, but Knight missed the ball with his foot when attempting to play it quickly and with the seconds ticking away the Storm were back on the attack. Munster forced a pass, the visitors lost the ball and a Smith grubber kick beat Dale Finucane over the dead ball line to leave the score 8-6 in the Strom's favour at the break.
Two minutes into the second half we saw some more Papenhuyzen magic. Souths received a penalty and Reynolds kicked for touch. With the ball almost five metres over the touchline, Papenhuyzen leapt with an outstretched arm and knocked it back in for his teammates. Instead of being on the attack, the Rabbitohs were backed up into their own half. With their next possession the Storm were on the attack again with a grubber kick being hurried over the dead-ball line for another set of six.
The Storm had taken their halftime spray from Bellamy to heart and were looking much sharper. On attack again six minutes into the second half Hughes crossed for a try untouched, but the bunker controversially ruled that the defence had been impeded by a decoy runner. The Bunnies received the ball from the penalty and proceeded to lose it early on halfway.
The game lacked flow, as mistakes and turnovers saw both teams struggle to establish any sustained period of dominance. The next time the Rabbitohs were on the attack, a penalty against the Storm saw Reynolds kick two points to draw the teams level on 8.
From the restart the Rabbitohs worked their way down into the Storm's 20 metre zone. A grubber kick through by Campbell Graham on the last was grounded by the Storm and a drop-out saw the Bunnies back on the attack. But the Melbourne defence was too good. They worked their way into the Rabbitohs' half and received a penalty that Smith kicked to regain the lead.
With 18 minutes remaining and the Rabbitohs attacking, Mitchell dropped the ball cold. The visitors instantly called for a referee challenge and replays showed Vunivalu had knocked the ball on in the lead up play. The successful challenged didn't prove costly as the Rabbitohs spilt the ball again shortly after. It was proving to be a tough game to watch, several cardboard cutouts seen with their heads buried in their mobile phones.
Mistakes by both teams followed before Munster became the game breaker once more. Retrieving a looping pass, he doubled around, looked up and put a pin-point kick through to Addo-Carr who managed to regather and cross out wide despite having his ribs firmly wrapped in enough strapping to make him look portly. Smith guided the conversion over from a metre in to take the Storm to a 16-8 lead.
The Rabbitohs were next on the attack and Papenhuyzen appeared to knock on from a bomb. As the scrum packed, replays showed that he hadn't, but the time had expired for Smith to challenge the decision. The Rabbitohs peppered the line and Smith put himself in front of a rampaging Dane Gagai to prevent a much-needed try. With eight minutes remaining they spread it wide only for a cut-out pass to be knocked down by Addo-Carr. Six more tackles for the Rabbitohs and this time they threw it to the left where they were ruled to have obstructed the defence, disallowing a Johnston try in the corner.
The Storm wrapped up the game with a little over two minutes remaining as forward Christian Welch cut through the ruck, found that man Munster again, who managed a flick pass to Smith who found Justin Olam to cross for the Storm's fourth try. Smith converted for the final scoreline of 22-8.
Neither team would have been happy with their overall performance. The Rabbitohs take on the Titans next week for two badly needed competition points, while the Storm will need to improve again to beat the so far undefeated Knights.