Origin injury toll a disaster for Storm
State of Origin I was breathtaking, emotionally charged, edge-of-your-seat, non-stop action… and a complete and total nightmare for the Melbourne Storm.
If Storm coach Craig Bellamy had one wish when his boys went into Origin camp it was that they would return a week later, unscathed, fully fit and ready to take on the Cowboys in Townsville this weekend.
But the football gods chose not to grant Bellamy's wish, instead turning it into the worst of realities.
The club has confirmed that Cooper Cronk will miss the next 8-12 weeks with a broken arm.
The reigning Daly M medalist suffered a fractured ulna and dislocated radioulnar joint in his right arm after a three-man tackle on Storm teammate and NSW back-rower Ryan Hoffman went awry.
Billy Slater has suffered a grade 2 AC joint sprain to his right shoulder and will undergo further assessment after re-joining the Melbourne camp but the club expects to be without its star fullback for the next 2-3 weeks.
Skipper Cameron Smith is the club's third casualty after being diagnosed with a low grade high sprain to his right ankle and has been ruled out of Saturday's game against the Cowboys and possible another week.
Cronk's 13th game at Origin level lasted just 10 minutes when the 30-year-old left the field reeling in pain.
Cronk refused a sideline assessment from the trainers, instead immediately heading into the sheds where news of a broken left arm was all but confirmed.
The playmaker emerged before halftime to take his place on the bench, arm in sling, before retiring to the coach's box to watch the second half behind a worrisome Mal Meninga.
The injury will force the Maroons to adjust for the remainder of the series but leaves the Storm devastated for much of their season.
Melbourne were already facing a halves crisis and with the loss of Cronk, Bellamy will now need to drastically reshuffle his side just to fill a No.7 guernsey.
Joel Romelo (ankle) and Cronk are both expected to miss the next 6-8 weeks while Cody Walker (hamstring) and Ben Hampton (suspension) are not available for selection until Round 13.
The Storm was already relying on the returning Ben Roberts to fill the void at No.6, who is now suddenly the club's only fit and available half.
Kiwi international Tohu Harris is likely to fill the void at five-eighth, but then the chess pieces begin to shuffle all over the board.
Smith was left limping for much of the second half after injuring his right ankle shortly after the restart. The state and club skipper played on under heavy strapping but whether further damage was done will be known following a scan.
Slater forced Storm hearts to sink well and truly to the floor after he was left grimacing in pain on the Suncorp Stadium turf in the final minute of the game.
The scintillating fullback mustered the courage to partake in the Maroons' final play but a NSW gang tackle again left Slater needing to be helped up by teammates as the full-time whistle sounded.
Promising youngster Cameron Munster may now get his opportunity at first-grade level as Slater is sidelined for at least the next two weeks.
It was as though everything that could go wrong, did go wrong for the Melbourne Storm.
Prior to the Origin nightmare the Victorian side was riding a wave of good news. In-demand forward Kevin Proctor had re-signed for another four years, Young Tonumaipea a further two, the club had announced a record membership tally and back-to-back wins had confidence at an all-time high.
However less than 24 hours later the club will fly north hoping to regain two of its 'Big Three' in a fit and able state, though it may be optimistic to believe both Slater and Smith can take on the Cowboys in just two days' time and play with any semblance of full fitness.