NRL 2021: Clinical Melbourne Storm ring in Jesse Bromwich era in style with 26-18 win over South Sydney

New Zealand international Jesse Bromwich's reign as skipper of Melbourne Storm has started in style with the NRL premiers completing a trademark 26-18 win over South Sydney to open the season.

A day after the official retirement of former star Cameron Smith, the Storm showed they are far from a spent force, with fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen ringing in the Bromwich era in style with a man of the match performance.

The 22-year-old ran for 174 metres, scored two tries and kicked five from six in a standout display as Melbourne upset the 2021 competition favourites.

Ryan Pepenhuyzen
Ryan Pepenhuyzen Photo credit: Getty

Coach Craig Bellamy cast a delighted figure post-match, admitting he had concerns the absence of Smith would be detrimental to his side.

"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."

The Bunnies were largely disappointing, with their much-hyped spine of Latrell Mitchell, Cody Walker, Damien Cook and Adam Reynolds struggling to make an impact.

New recruit Benji Marshall was arguably the Rabbitohs best, providing spark and cutting edge of the bench, while fellow off-season signing Jai Arrow was back to his best after a disjointed campaign at the Gold Coast Titans in 2020. 

The Storm led 12-0 after 10 minutes before Papenhuyzen scored his first try in the 17th minute after Kiwi Kenny Bromwich's sweet pass opened up a whole in Souths' defence. 

Bunnies winger Alex Johnston crossed the line either side of half-time before Mitchell's solo effort had Souths' within six with 20 minutes to play. 

But Papenhuyzen, who scored his second-try late in the first half, slotted a crucial penalty goal in the final quarter to take the Storm out of reach, in front of almost 12,000 fans at AAMI Park.