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An appalling sin-bin decision and a Jahrome Hughes master-class in the first half ultimately consigned the severely depleted Warriors to a heavy 42-20 defeat in their traditional Anzac Day clash with Melbourne at AAMI Park.

The Warriors made a bright start but conceded a try while a man down following the farcical spell handed to second-rower Josh Curran, before one-time Warriors recruitment target Hughes toyed with a new-look left-side defensive line-up.

But amid the gloom of another Storm shellacking – the Warriors’ 10th straight loss in the rivalry – a shimmering silver lining. Reece Walsh produced a stunning debut at fullback, playing with confidence showing touches of courage and class throughout, and finishing with two brilliant late try-assists to allow Ken Maumalo to complete a hat-trick. It was a window into the club’s future as we witness the baton gradually being passed from Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.

The similarities with Kalyn Ponga in style and precocious talent are too obvious not to make the comparison.

Coach Nathan Brown rung the late changes with the 18-year-old Walsh pitched into fullback and RTS moved to the wing, though the skipper played a roving role on attack throughout. Bayley Sironen was named at halfback with Sean O’Sullivan making way, while another teenager, Rocco Berry, came in at left centre.

Behind 26-4 at halftime, the patched-up ‘FrankenWarriors’ (as dubbed by TWL follower Shane Hogan) lifted frustrated fans’ spirits with a much more committed and cohesive second-half display.

On the back foot early, the Warriors conceded the first try in the fourth minute in disturbingly easy fashion. Ken Maumalo couldn’t get a handle on Reimis Smith, then Jahrome Hughes bamboozled Wayde Egan and Jazz Tevaga before threading a superb kick for former Warriors loan winger George Jennings to dot down comfortably.

Cameron Munster slotted the sideline conversion for 6-0.

But the visitors returned fire quickly.

After an eye-catching probe from Walsh, Egan’s slick blindside option and a cut-out pass from Josh Curran – well-handled by Big Ken – saw Maumalo tiptoe over in the corner.

An even clearer sign the Warriors were keyed up came a few minutes later when Curran and Maumalo made roadkill of Jennings, who caught a towering Walsh bomb. Farcically, despite no video evidence whatsoever, Curran was binned for contact with the head.

The Warriors scrambled valiantly to almost escape from their 10-minute period with 12 men unscathed, but Hughes’ deft short ball sent Felise Kaufusi pouring through a hole for a 20th-minute try.


Anyone doubting the Warriors’ wisdom in (unsuccessfully) going after Storm halfback Hughes with big sacks of cash surely changed their tune when he chalked up his third and fourth try-assists of the game in back-to-back sets.

Hughes made a fool of Kodi Nikorima on both occasions, drawing him in to send Nicho Hynes over, then slicing through the defensive line as Nikorima overread the play and linking with Smith to race away.

Storm 20-4 with 13 minutes of the first half left.

The Warriors’ left edge was given another bath five minutes later, debutant Rocco Berry making an awful decision to jam in and creating a two-man overlap for the Storm – and a double for Smith.

The Warriors started the second stanza in promising style, capitalising on a Storm error and a set restart.

Ben Murdoch-Masila, one of the Warriors’ very best on the night, crashed over from close range after Walsh had again stretched the hosts’ defence with his Kalyn Ponga-like pace and ball-playing.

A bad offside penalty on the last tackle by an overeager Curran proved costly, however.

A rampaging Justin Olam was on the end of slick short side play from Harry Grant and Hynes, powering over in the 52nd minute for a 30-10 scoreline.

The under-siege visitors almost struck straight back, but Marcelo Montoya narrowly missed a tough chance to force an excellent Nikorima grubber to the in-goal.

The Warriors showed outstanding defensive resolve in the ensuing period and even dominated the Storm physically at times. But the Storm chalked up try number seven with 15 minutes left from a scrum move.

RTS, defending on the wing, was lured into rushing in and Josh Addo-Carr strolled over from a Cameron Munster rainbow ball.

Addo-Carr chalked up a double three minutes later, leaving five Warriors strewn in his wake after picking up a loose ball flat-footed 40 metres out on the touchline.

The Warriors’ inability to shut down the offload and create second-phase play of their own also proved crucial, lapped 15 to 5 in that department across the first 70 minutes.

Then a couple of moments to get every Warriors fan fizzing for the future.

Walsh fired out a magnificent flat cut-out ball to put Maumalo over for his second, a pass dripping with class.

With a couple of minutes left the superstar-in-the-making rolled an inch-perfect grubber into the Storm in-goal for Maumalo to grab a maiden NRL hat-trick. Again, absolute top-shelf.

Both plays from the kid suggested a spot in the halves – with Roger reverting to fullback – may be Nathan Brown’s best combination as 2021 wears on.

Scrounging around for more positives from a convincing loss, it’s worth pointing out the second half finished 16 points apiece. There were glaring defensive issues throughout but the Warriors had just one backline player in the same position as last week – Maumalo – up against one of the NRL’s benchmark teams.

A Sunday showdown with suddenly in-form North Queensland provides an ideal opportunity for a bounce-back…and there will be plenty of Warriors supporters nodding odd tonight dreaming of what Reece Walsh is capable of doing against some of the competition’s mid-to-lower range defences.

Melbourne Storm 42 (Reimis Smith 2, Josh Addo-Carr 2, George Jennings, Felise Kaufusi, Nicho Hynes, Justin Olam tries; Cameron Munster 5 goals) defeated Warriors 20 (Ken Maumalo 3, Ben Murdoch-Masila tries; Kodi Nikorima 2 goals) at AAMI Park, Melbourne. 

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