NRL marathon man Cameron Smith dominated headlines pre-match then carried that man-of-the-moment vibe on to the field with a dominant performance in Melbourne’s 40-16 victory over the Sharks at AAMI Park.
A crowd of more than 22,000 was on hand to see Smith become the first player in the history of the NRL to play 400 matches and the Storm made the most of the occasion as they picked up their 14th victory of the season and once again moved three wins clear at the top of the Telstra Premiership ladder.
And it was no surprise to see Smith play a huge part in the triumph as the veteran captain – standing out on the field in his shiny golden boots – had a hand in three of the Storm’s tries and kicked an impressive eight of nine with the boot to guide the league leaders home.
Smith played a pivotal role in helping the Storm to an 18-4 half-time advantage, before Shaun Johnson helped a Sharks’ side that lost Josh Dugan to a hamstring complaint just 20 minutes into the match come charging back into the contest with two converted tries to open the second half.
But that was as good as it got for John Morris’s side, as the Storm scored 22 unanswered points to finish the match and send Smith out a winner in his record-breaking appearance.
Queensland duo Billy Slater and Johnathan Thurston were among the greats to play a part in the pre-match tributes to Smith and it didn’t take long for the hosts to feel inspired as Cameron Munster got on the end of a Jahrome Hughes grubber to open the scoring after just three minutes.
Aaron Gray got one back for the Sharks shortly after, but the hosts continued to hold sway as Smith converted a pair of penalty goals to help the Storm stay in control of the match.
The Storm captain was once again in the thick of things on the stroke of half-time as the veteran hooker helped Brandon Smith barge over from close range to make it 18-4 to the home side at the break.
The Sharks went into the game without Paul Gallen, Matt Moylan and Wade Graham and the loss of Dugan to injury didn’t seem to dampen their enthusiasm as they emerged after half-time looking like a different side.
With Johnson directing traffic the visitors scored twice in quick succession within the opening 10 minutes of the second half to close within two points and appeared to have all the momentum.
The Sharks even thought they had another try moments later when Sosaia Feki’s effort was turned down because of a forward pass and the Storm made them pay for that error almost immediately.
Smith found Brodie Croft with the initial pass from a scrum and the Storm half-back produced a tremendous solo effort to touch down and wrestle the advantage back for the hosts.
The game was as good as over just four minutes later when Justin Olam got on the end of a grubber from Kenny Bromwich to register his first try in the NRL, before Joe Stimson scored and Brandon Smith completed his brace to ensure it was a memorable night for the Storm.