In a relatively dour game between two of the more entertaining teams in the NRL, Melbourne and North Queensland did battle at Olympic Park on Friday, with the home side doing enough to get the two points.
North Queensland's points didn't complement the field position and possession they enjoyed, but they can take heart that with more luck and (much) better execution they'd have broken their Olympic Park hoodoo. One that got away.
Melbourne, too, will be happy to win a game against an opponent that was the better side for large parts of the match. Ultimately they completed more sets and took their opportunities with more precision.
The Game Swung When… Five times in the first half, the last pass went down or into touch with the Cowboys attacking the Storm fringes following handy work inside. That's where North Queensland lost it. It was like dropping Brian Lara before he'd made 20. Eventually, he was going to make you pay.
That said, the Storm didn't have this match completely in the bag until Joseph Tomane touched down in the corner in the 74th minute and Smith converted. That made it 20-4.
Earlier, the game's best try: the Storm tossed it around in an entertaining set that went through the hands before Adam Blair offloaded for a flying Billy Slater. Slater poured on his extensive after-burners and cut the Cows to ribbons. Eventually tackled by Matt Bowen, Slater popped the ball to Brett White who popped it back to Slater. The fullback went wide and tossed a ball over the top for Cooper Cronk to score a fine try.
In the 24th minute Brett Finch jinked, dummied and did it again before running in under the posts.
Who Was Hot… The Storm were well served by their “spine” players – numbers one, six, seven and nine. At fullback Slater ran a game-high 18 times for 132 metres, laid on two try assists, and broke nine tackles. Great game from the ever-dangerous custodian.
Hooker Cameron Smith came up with 41 tackles and nice direction out of dummy-half; Finch broke five tackles and offloaded twice, while Cronk made a try assist, a tackle break and 20 tackles.
Elsewhere in the Storm's engine room Dallas Johnson made 42 tackles.
Cowboys forwards Shane Tronc (19 runs, 125 metres, 39 tackles) and Matthew Scott (13 runs, 113 metres, 22 tackles) were busy. Johnathan Thurston drove a lot of good work inside with slick ball work while Willie Tonga looked handy down the right.
Who Was Not... The Cowboys had more opportunities to score than Melbourne but just didn't take advantage of them. It was a crucial game for the visitors and one might have expected a tad more desperation in a tough game at a noted “cemetery”.
Winger John Williams should have had a crack for the line in the 30th minute rather than passing back inside to the heavily marked Tonga.
Cows five-eighth Grant Rovelli didn't give his side enough pressure with his kicking game.
North Queensland can take heart that they should have won this game… but time's running out in 2009!
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Steve Turner scored the first try following a fine chip chick by Cooper Cronk. Top halfback; funny old name – but a top halfback.
Bad Boys… None.
Refs Watch… Though ball-dropped-backwards was occasionally called otherwise, and a giant flat straight across Thurston pass was called forward, officials Tony Archer and Gerard Sutton had fairly good games.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Billy Slater (Storm): Huge amount of running from the game's top custodian; 2 points – Shane Tronc (Cowboys): Thirty-nine tackles, 26 receives and four offloads – couldn't do any more; 1 point – Cooper Cronk (Storm): A real general's display from the no.7.
Storm 20 (S Turner, B Finch, C Cronk, J Tomane tries; C Smith 2 goals) def Cowboys 8 (W Tonga 2 tries) at Olympic Park. Crowd: 10,510.