Storm coach Craig Bellamy hopes Thursday night's victory over the Rabbitohs has answered many of the questions left behind following the off-season departure of Cameron Smith.
A dazzling double from Ryan Papenhuyzen sparked Melbourne to a 26-18 win over South Sydney at AAMI Park as the premiers made the perfect start to the post-Smith era.
Just a day after Smith announced his retirement from rugby league, Papenhuyzen and Cameron Munster showed that the title defence is in safe hands as the Storm piled on 22 points in the opening 30 minutes.
Papenhuyzen ran for 174 metres and kicked five goals from six attempts in a standout individual performance, while Munster led superbly in the absence of the man who had been the heart and soul of the club for 18 years.
Bellamy admitted he had concerns about how the team would perform in the absence of Smith in the lead-up to the clash, which were further intensified during the Rabbitohs' second-half fightback in the season opener.
Match: Storm v Rabbitohs
Round 1 -
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
"Not having Cameron there I was a little bit worried," Bellamy said after the victory.
"Jesse [Bromwich] and the leaders did a really good job there by steading the ship a little bit and we have got a lot of improvement in us.
"There is a big question mark over us with Cameron retiring and there is no secret that we are going to miss him in a lot of areas, so I was really proud of how they handled it tonight, especially our leaders."
Bellamy pleased despite looming question mark
The goalkicking of Papenhuyzen also won praise from Bellamy, with the veteran coach amazed at the maturity of his young fullback to step up and take more responsibility in the side.
"When he realised he was going to be our goalkicker he has practiced really hard and to his credit he did a great job for us there tonight," Bellamy noted.
"He was really confident taking the job on and wanted to take the job on, even if he is in Cameron's shadow a little bit.
"But besides his goalkicking he was tremendous tonight... for a guy his size, he is so tough."
The victory means the Storm maintained their exceptional record of not having lost a round one encounter since 2001, while the Bunnies have lost 17 from 17 games in Melbourne.
After an off-season recruiting spree that netted veteran duo Josh Mansour and Benji Marshall, the Bunnies will be disappointed with their sluggish start and the number of errors they committed.
The much-hyped spine of Latrell Mitchell, Cody Walker, Adam Reynolds and Damien Cook looked disjointed for much of the contest, with the Storm winning the majority of one-on-one battles over the field.
Mitchell did run for 179 metres and looked dangerous at times, while Marshall and fellow off-season signing Jai Arrow gave the Bunnies some spark off the bench as the visitors mounted an unsuccessful second-half rally.
Papenhuyzen is the everywhere man
A late injury to prop Thomas Burgess, who was stretchered off after suffering a 'burner' in his arm, only added more pain for the visitors.
In stark contrast to Souths' slow start the Storm crossed through Munster and Justin Olam inside the first 10 minutes for a 12-0 lead.
Papenhuyzen’s first try in the 17th minute came after he put Kenny Bromwich through a hole with a sweet pass and then took a return ball from the back-rower to score.
The fullback’s second four-pointer was an individual effort into the right corner as he showcased his blinding speed to beat three defenders.
Prolific winger Alex Johnston scored a try either side of half-time to give the Rabbitohs some life and when Mitchell did it all himself to touch down out wide, the margin was just six with just over 20 minutes to play.
Mitchell fires when his team needs him
But Papenhuyzen slotted a simple penalty goal moments later to make the margin eight as the Storm closed out yet another first-up win in front of almost 12,000 fans.
Remarkably, the last time the Storm lost a round one game was to the Bulldogs in 2001, the year before Cameron Smith made his NRL debut.