For just an instant last night, it seemed Melbourne and South Sydney might be like The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II.
One of those rare instances when the sequel is better than the original.
Although former Storm assistant Michael Maguire is in charge of the Rabbitohs, and with Greg Inglis, Michael Crocker and Matt King also at Redfern, it would be a stretch to call Souths ‘‘Storm II’’.
Maguire seems very much his own man. Yet, with so many Storm old boys on the books, surely the club is milking the intellectual property of the most successful unsuccessful (or is that unsuccessful successful?) team in sports history.
And when Souths winger Fetuli Talanoa dived for the corner early in the second half – straining to give Souths a come-from-behind lead – you wondered if Melbourne’s Bellyball was rubbing off on the Rabbits, and an upset could be brewing.
Yet the replay showed Talanoa’s size 12 had grazed the sideline. No try. Still 10-10.
The chance was fleeting. Soon after, Billy Slater’s boot stayed a millimetre inside the line as he somehow scored inside the flag. Talent, not luck.
Slater is so good in confined spaces he could turn cartwheels in a phone booth.
Then, before you could say, ‘‘Is that Shane Warne in the grandstand?’’ (it was), Dane Nielsen got on the end of a typically sweeping Storm move.
There was 16 minutes to play. But high-heeled thongs are more likely to come back than the Rabbitohs were from 10 points down in Melbourne. Slater’s second try just before the hooter, thanks to a pinpoint Nielsen grubber, was merely icing.
So it was an inevitably comfortable 24-10 victory and welcome controversy-free night for the Storm, given the only chin straps were on the helmets of those who had ridden to the game.
The Rabbitohs, on the other hand, were damned by a few crucial lapses rather than rewarded by their apparent improvement for a second week.
Yet, as in their Sinatra performance against the Roosters on Monday night when they lost the unloseable game, there was something to like about the Rabbitohs, even in defeat. Especially the way they recovered from a dreadful first 16 minutes, when the psychological scars from last week’s meltdown were still smarting.
Kittens caught in a rottweiler’s food bowl have looked more confident than Talanoa had under a couple of high balls in those shaky early stages.
His first fumble was reprieved by a penalty. The second led indirectly to the Storm’s second unanswered try – a ridiculously easy effort by Matt Duffie in the right corner.
Yet, with their hands on the Rabbitohs’ throats, suddenly the Storm couldn’t keep grip of the ball. Five-eighth Gareth Widdop dropped the sort of gentle pass you throw to an unco-ordinated five-year-old. Souths went forward and, after the Rabbitohs worked harder than Madonna’s make-up artist to keep the ball alive, winger Chris McQueen scored.
Soon after, Slater’s errant pass to Talanoa was such a gift that the Souths’ winger had to take the ribbon off the ball. That led to a typically muscular try by Sam Burgess, who might win the Dally M on current form if he is not required by the British Olympic team. Which, as Burgess forced his way over the Storm line with a mixture of raw strength and unexpected athleticism, could be in either weightlifting or gymnastics.
So Souths’ effort in responding from their early mistakes, and levelling the scores at half-time, was heartening. But, after fading in the last half hour, you wonder how long they can play decent football without reward before becoming deflated.
The Storm, on the other hand, responded strongly to a half-time spray from coach Craig Bellamy. Although captain Cameron Smith said it was sometimes hard to tell when Bellamy was angry. ‘‘There’s always spit coming out,’’ he said of the emotional coach. ‘‘Doesn’t matter whether he’s giving us a spray or just talking normally.’’
MELBOURNE 24 (D Nielsen 2 B Slater 2 M Duffie tries C Smith 2 goals) bt SOUTH SYDNEY 10 (S Burgess C McQueen tries A Reynolds goal) at AAMI Park. Referee: Shayne Hayne, Gavin Morris. Crowd: 15,872.