One of the most tumultuous weeks in Wests Tigers' history has ended with a frustrating 28-6 defeat to a surging Melbourne Storm at Campbelltown Stadium on Monday night.
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And it was none other than Storm halfback Cooper Cronk who single-handedly put the home side to the sword, setting up four of his side's five tries and helping keep Melbourne's top four hopes alive.
Former Wests Tigers winger Marika Koroibete celebrated his return to Campbelltown with a brace, while centre Will Chambers enjoyed more open space than the backfields of Camden with a 196-metre outing.
The loss has hampered their finals chances, leaving the Tigers two points adrift of the top eight in 12th spot and has damaged their for-and-against.
The home side kicked off proceedings with a try to surprise winger Sitaleki Akauola, who finished off a right-side shift with a one-handed putdown in the 8th minute after Sisa Waqa's early brainsnap.
The visitors almost replied immediately when Storm prop Jesse Bromwich stepped through a hole in front of the sticks – but the big man was busted for running around Bryan Norrie in the lead-up.
But they didn't have to wait much longer to get over the line.
Ben Roberts' delicate crossfield chip for Marika Koroibete in the 18th couldn't have been better placed for his third try since switching camps mid-season.
And the former Tiger made it four in five games when, after running onto a flat-footed bullet from Cronk four minutes later, he left Mitchell Moses eating dirt beside the corner post. And just like that, together with Cameron Smith's twin sideline conversions, Melbourne were well in control 12-6.
However, Cronk and his premiership-threatening team-mates were just warming up. After bombing Akauola into a 26th minute cold error on the left, Melbourne's chief orchestrator went right, where his 36th minute no-looker for Will Chambers to break into the backfield gave Moses no chance.
The Tigers had a couple of opportunities to reduce the Storm's advantage as the half drew to close – including a potential penalty try when Slater took out Akauola on a chase to Austin's grubber – but not only did Moses' sprayed penalty attempt leave them with a two-try deficit at the break, but a hamstring injury to Pat Richards left them with 16 men for the remainder of the night.
The second half started poorly for the hosts when Farah fumbled the ball in the first set upon resumption. And it didn't get much better than that.
Cronk continued his one-man dominance when he piloted a pinpoint crossfield bomb for a flying Waqa in the 50th, before the incumbent Kangaroos halfback finished off a 60 metre movement with his fourth try assist to his skipper in the return set.
Smith was given an early rest not long after – and he took advantage of the spare time by posing for photos with Storm fans on the sideline – while Tigers prop Keith Galloway was also hauled off early in his 150-game milestone after being pinged twice for silly penalties.
Akauola was put on report for a shoulder charge on Slater late in the second half.
The crowd of 7,782 meant, in conjunction with the NRL, $77,820 was raised for injured former Tiger Simon Dwyer.
Melbourne Storm 28 (Koroibete 2, Chambers, Waqa, Smith tries; Smith 4 goals) defeated Wests Tigers 6 (Akauola try; Richards goal) at Campbelltown Stadium. Crowd: 7,782.