Hometown hero Tohu Harris had a hand in two tries as the Melbourne Storm’s Napier experiment paid off in style, downing St George Illawarra 22-4 at McLean Park.
A crowd of 14,532 witnessed the first NRL match in the Hawke’s Bay city and were treated to a masterclass by the Storm at their efficient best to condemn the Dragons to their seventh straight loss.
The only negative for Craig Bellamy’s men was the sight of Cooper Cronk leaving the field late on with what appeared to be a quadriceps injury.
After an error-strewn opening on a greasy surface, the desperate Dragons looked to have taken the lead in the 27th minute when a wide cut-out pass from Benji Marshall sent Jason Nightingale over in the corner only for it to be called back for a forward pass.
The Storm made them pay a minute later when Nelson Asofa-Solomona bullocked his way over from short range to chalk up his first NRL try.
When Marshall tried to repeat his earlier pass three minutes before the break, Hawke’s Bay-born Harris was alert to the danger.
Playing in front of his family sitting in the aptly-named Harris Stand, he intercepted the pass to send a flying Marika Koroibete, who had been denied earlier in the half, away on an 80m dash to the line.
The 12-0 halftime deficit was perhaps a little harsh on the Dragons who had matched their pre-game talk of an improved defensive effort in the Storm’s opening set.
Matt Duffie defused a testing bomb for his first touch in a Storm jersey in 847 days before almost being driven back in-goal. The Red V kept up the intensity to force Cronk to kick from inside his own 20m.
They were again to the fore soon after the interval with five tacklers combining to thwart a hard-charging Kevin Proctor from extending the Storm lead.
But they struggled to get anything going on attack and seconds after a chant of “Melbourne, Melbourne” rang out Proctor latched onto a short ball from Cronk to extend the ‘home’ side’s lead 15 minutes after the resumption.
Harris, who designed the one-off jersey worn by the Storm, then had his second assist of the night to retrieve a knockdown from a Cronk bomb and send Mahe Fonua over in the corner to put them up 22-0 and the result beyond doubt.
They still had enough time to have tries to Blake Green and a second to Fonua ruled out for forward passes as the fire went out of the Dragons before they claimed a late consolation to centre Peter Mata’utia.