NRL SEA EAGLES STORM
Suliasi Vunivalu scored two tries in three minutes to give Melbourne their 18th-straight round-one NRL win with a tough 18-4 victory over Manly.
In a bizarre Sunday afternoon at Lottoland, the game was tryless for 60 minutes while ballkids wore gloves and the ball was cleaned every time it went into the crowd.
With the coronavirus pandemic overshadowing the game, Manly's high performance unit ordered the extreme measures of using bleach.
"That's just a part of the club's idea to lessen the impact," Manly coach Des Hasler said.
"We're just taking all precautions ... You've got to take as many as possible."
But on the field, both sides put on a display which appeared to have far more at stake than a round-one contest.
With each team exchanging penalty goals, the match sat at 4-2 in Manly's favour before Vunivalu gave Melbourne the lead with two-straight tries from kicks.
The first - in the 61st minute - came when Jahrome Hughes kicked perfectly for Vunivalu behind Manly winger Jorge Taufua to score.
From the next set, Melbourne were on the attack again, as Hughes kicked for Vunivalu for a second time after scooping up a loose ball.
There appeared to be a question mark over the Storm winger getting the ball down, but the try was awarded by the bunker.
Melbourne wrapped the game up when Cameron Smith grubbered out of dummy-half for Tom Eisenhuth with six minutes to play.
In the first game of his 19th season, Smith again controlled the contest perfectly, forcing two line dropouts, while Tui Kamikamica ran 149 metres at prop.
Vunivalu might attract match review committee attention for raising his knees and making contact with Dylan Walker's head in a tackle which went unpenalised.
Regardless, it kept Melbourne's record alive of being undefeated in every round one match they have played under Bellamy.
"It's a bit of luck I suppose," Bellamy said.
"(The record) was obviously tested today coming here. Manly are tough to beat here any time.
"We work hard in the pre-season, but that's not to say other clubs don't. If that's part of it, I don't know.
"And we came in with a basic full squad. We only have one guy not available with Brandon Smith."
Manly were gritty even if they couldn't break Melbourne's line.
Their own goalline defence was particularly impressive, as they made 15 tackles inside their own 20-metre zone without breaking in the first half.
Tom Trbojevic pulled off two try-savers, including one in which he rushed across and put a flying Marion Seve into touch metres from the line.
Jorge Taufua, repeating his heroics from last season, laid on what will likely be the hit of the year on Seve.
"We were guilty of giving them too much possession in the second half in good field position," Hasler said.
"We didn't reward our good tryline defence with the ball. We could have controlled our own destiny."