It took Craig Bellamy less than a month to hand Harry Grant his first start for Melbourne.
Now the heir to Cameron Smith’s throne is likely to take his rightful place in the No. 9 jumper for as long as he wants after guiding Melbourne to a comfortable 40-14 rout of Cronulla.
Having come off the bench for the past three weeks as he was brought back slowly from a knee injury, Bellamy finally relented by starting Grant on Friday night.
The Queensland State of Origin hooker responded by assisting on three tries of a second-half onslaught, setting up the Storm’s fifth straight victory.
All three assists came within a 17-minute, four-try burst that ripped the heart out of the contest.
It now appears the only time Grant will ride the pine for the foreseeable future is when the 23-year-old is given an early rest, as was the case after 68 minutes at AAMI Park.
Grant wasn’t the only star of the rout, with centre Reimis Smith grabbing a hat trick, Christian Welch dominating the middle, and Nicho Hynes shining in the absence of Ryan Papenhuyzen.
The Storm fullback is hopeful he could return for what shapes as a tantalising top-four blockbuster with premiership challengers South Sydney at Stadium Australia next week.
Cronulla, meanwhile, will be left to rue a second-half capitulation that resulted in a fourth straight defeat – and the sixth of their past seven games.
The Sharks defence missed a whopping 31 of their 39 missed tackles after halftime, a telltale sign that the embattled club may just be checking out of their season.
Only some wayward goalkicking – Cameron Munster and Hynes left 10 points on the kicking tee – denied the reigning premiers from hitting the half-century.
Cronulla have yet to win in the three games since the dramatic sacking of John Morris, leaving interim coach Josh Hannay with an almighty job to find some life in their floundering campaign.
They remain in 13th spot, just two points ahead of last-placed Canterbury.
Both teams traded penalty goals early, but it was the Storm who crossed the line first against the run of play, with Josh Addo-Carr racing 80 metres after a Shaun Johnson drop-ball.
But the undeterred Sharks continued to take chances, and were rewarded for their adventurous play when Briton Nikora steamed onto a Johnson short-ball to give his team a two-point halftime lead.
From there it was all the home side, opening a Cronulla defence at will with seven tries in the second half, cracking the 40-point mark for the fourth time in their past five games.
Parts of the Melbourne crowd gave Will Chambers a standing ovation on his return to AAMI Park. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)Source:Getty Images
RUSTY OLD WILLIE
Former Storm champion Will Chambers welcomed the warm reception at his old stomping ground but had an unhappy start, getting stood up by opposite centre Justin Olam early.
In his first outing as a Shark, the 32-year-old dropped two balls cold on routine carries and fumbled a set restart, but also produced some vintage rugged defence on the right edge.
He finished the night with 56 metres from seven runs.
His centre partner, makeshift three-quarter Teig Wilton, also failed to make an impact, raising questions as to why Hannay left the experienced but out-of-favour Josh Dugan out of the 17.
MIXED MAGIC JOHNSON
Johnson hasn’t quite attracted the attention he used to due to injury.
But as the league’s halfback carousel continues to spin out of control, the off-contract New Zealand international is sure to garner some interest from teams desperate for a creative playmaker.
Also making his first start of the season, the 30-year-old looked sharp early on the right edge, three times putting teammates into holes, including one that ended in Nikora’s four-pointer.
But he wasn’t without his problems on the other side of the ball, missing a team-high six tackles while also conceding two penalties.
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