The Melbourne Storm have kicked off their premiership defence in the same way they have started the past 20 seasons — with victory, this time over South Sydney.
The Storm have won every round one game since 2001 and, just as they did in their last game, the 2020 grand final, jumped out to a 22-0 lead in the first half before letting their opposition back into the game on Thursday night.
But again, four second-half points were enough to get them home 26-18 over the Rabbitohs.
The Storm were spectacular from the opening whistle, going 90 metres in their first set and keeping that momentum up through the first half.
Cameron Munster sold a dummy to Ryan Papenhuyzen to break through for the first try in the third minute, but the fullback got his hands on the ball for the next three tries.
On the back of a 45-metre charge from Josh Addo-Carr that saw him chip into the hands of halfback Jahrome Hughes, Papenhuyzen got the ball on the next play and shaped outside before popping a pass back inside to centre Justin Olam to score next to the posts.
Papenhuyzen’s deft touch was on display again seven minutes later when a short ball put Kenny Bromwich through a gap and the Clive Churchill medallist backed up through the middle to receive the return pass and dot down for his first of the night.
Just as he did in his last game almost five months ago, Papenhuyzen ended the Storm’s tryscoring for the night, this time in just the 30th minute, with superb acceleration through a gap created by Hughes.
The Rabbitohs hit back once they got the ball in their hands, scoring on either side of half-time as they used their prolific left-side attack to power past Melbourne’s inexperienced right-side defence.
Centre Reimis Smith and winger George Jennings were both playing their first games in purple and the Rabbitohs sent Alex Johnston over the line in the 33rd and 44th minutes.
Fullback Latrell Mitchell beat Smith for pace and held off Jennings to touch down with 25 minutes left, but Souths’ comeback ended there as the Storm held on for their 16th win from their past 18 games.