Suliasi Vunivalu has scored two tries in three minutes to give Melbourne its 18th-straight, season-opening 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.
But on the field, both sides put on a display that appeared to have far more at stake than a Round 1 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 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 was 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 up the game 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 game 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 that went unpenalised.
The Sea Eagles were gritty even if they couldn’t break Melbourne’s line.
Their goalline defence was particularly impressive, as they made 15 tackles inside their own 20-metre zone without breaking in the first half.
At WIN Stadium, Benji Marshall has produced a vintage performance to lead the Wests Tigers to a hard-fought 24-14 victory over St George Illawarra in their NRL season-opener.
On the same day scans revealed Luke Brooks would miss a month with a calf injury, Marshall stepped up with a try and two try assists at WIN Stadium.
At 35, the league’s second-oldest player also added four goals from four attempts in what was his first match with the kicking tee since 2013.
Marshall, who was masterful in the wet conditions, also combined with another former Dragon in Luciano Leilua to break a 14-14 scoreline in the 60th minute.
Both teams had multiple chances to score in the final 20 minutes, but none bigger than Paul Vaughan’s error off a Ben Hunt line break in front of the posts.
Tyson Frizell also broke into the backfield in the final minutes but couldn’t find support on the inside, much to the angst of the 9137 crowd.
Tigers winger David Nofoaluma sealed the win with a try on fulltime.
Meanwhile, Brisbane’s forward stocks have taken another hit with Tevita Pangai accepting a four-game NRL ban for dangerous contact, while Penrith’s Jack Hetherington faces two weeks on the sidelines for an ugly tackle.
On Sunday Pangai entered an early guilty plea for the high shot where his biceps collected the head of North Queensland’s Justin O’Neill.
His plea avoids the possibility of an extra two matches on the sidelines.
It marks the fourth time Pangai has been banned in the space of a year, with his suspensions now totalling 12 weeks.