Newcastle missed a golden opportunity to move into the top four when they were unable to turn mountains of possession and field position into points against the Storm with the Melbourne boys defending well enough to steal victory at the death.
Storm star Greg Inglis basically only turned up for the first 10 minutes and the last five minutes but still provided the crucial last pass to Will Chambers for a 76th-minute match winner and then defused the last-ditch Newcastle attacking raid by taking a cross-field bomb as the siren sounded.
In slippery conditions the home side made enough errors to lose two matches but their desperate defence, particularly on their goal line, constantly kept them in the contest and gave them the chance to break the Knights’ hearts, which they dutifully did.
The Storm completed at just 66 per cent compared to the Knights’ 81 per cent, they ran for just 1072 metres in the match compared to Newcastle’s 1532 metres, they made 86 more tackles than the Knights (that’s more than 14 more sets of six), they had 35 missed tackles compared to 16, and 16 errors compared to Newcastle’s seven.
But all of this wasn’t enough to get the job done for the Knights and as a result they slide down the NRL ladder to the periphery of the finals zone.
The Game Swung When… Knights prop Chris Houston coughed up possession 40 metres out from his own line in the 75th minute and it gave the Storm the chance they had been craving for much of the second half. Not long after the side was shifting the ball right and Sika Manu sucked in a defender before slipping a pass to Inglis who pulled in the winger before sending Chambers into the corner for the match-winner.
Who Was Hot… Storm fullback Billy Slater made a few errors in the match but his touches of class allowed the Storm to stay with the Knights throughout the night. He set up the first try and scored the second for the Storm while also doing his usual clean-up work at the back. The Melbourne goal-line defence was certainly hot, with the Knights’ tries coming from kicks as the home side muscled up time and time again to repel the visitors.
Hooker and captain Cameron Smith, plus returning lock Dallas Johnson, also toiled hard all night.
For the Knights Matt Hilder was a real workhorse with 13 hit-ups and 37 tackles.
Newcastle winger Akuila Uate ran for 168 metres while Kurt Gidley racked up the metres as usual (198 gained).
Who Was Not… The Newcastle halves, particularly Ben Rogers, need to take some of the heat for this loss.
The pair had plenty of field position and possession but were unable to conjure a lot of points, in the end relying on kicks to score. Rogers seems to only play great or not so great – and this was the latter. He gave up some easy penalties, made some fundamental errors, failed to penetrate the line and kicked poorly.
Jarrod Mullen was also only average, which was untimely in front of the New South Wales coach.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Melbourne’s first try came from a beautiful set play that worked perfectly. From just past the halfway line on the left fringe hooker Cameron Smith jumped out from marker, engaged the markers before passing outside to Cooper Cronk who quickly turned the ball back inside to a flying Billy Slater. The Queensland and Australian fullback sliced straight through the middle of the defence with blistering speed and after a 40-metre dash found Greg Inglis in support as he met the last line of defence; the representative centre calmly dived over to open the scoring.
Slater also ignited the crowd with a try of his own early in the second half after he chased a Cooper Cronk reverse grubber, shouldered Kurt Gidley out of the way and then leapt, Superman-style, to ground the ball one-handed and at full stretch.
Special mention for Akuila Uate’s high leap-and-grab for the Knights’ second try – the Fijian flyer showed great wings and good footwork to step past Slater as he landed.
Injuries… Melbourne five-eighth Brett Finch was forced from the field early in the first half with a right shoulder problem and was able to return to the contest late but without any success, while Cameron Smith also hurt his left shoulder but battled on throughout the match.
Bad Boys… Melbourne’s Ryan Hinchcliffe returned to yesteryear right on half-time when he came down with his forearm while tackling Cory Paterson, a move that saw him charged with striking. It cost his side two points and allowed the Knights to take a lead into the half-time break. It will also cost Hinchcliffe a week on the sidelines.
Newcastle replacement Wes Naiqama was also penalised for a lifting tackle on Greg Inglis but no further action was taken.
Refs Watch… Shayne Hayne and Matt Cecchin stayed out of the contest and made the right calls when they were needed, a sight all fans would love to see more often. We are all too quick to point out referee flaws when they occur, but kudos to this pair for a job well done.
NRL.com Best & Fairest…
3 points – Cameron Smith (Storm): This wasn’t his best performance but it was controlled and clinical when it mattered. The Storm skipper directed his side into a position to win when it counted; 2 points – Matt Hilder (Knights): Kept running hard and strong all night and tackled his backside off showing he is a real unsung hero for his side; 1 point – Billy Slater (Storm): Made a few errors but without him the Storm would not have won this game. Makes the big plays when needed.
Storm 18 (G Inglis, B Slater, W Chambers tries; C Smith 3 goals) def Knights 14 (W Naiqama, A Uate tries; K Gidley 3 goals) at Olympic Park. Crowd: 9,041.