Clinical Storm outlast Eels
A clinical 80 minutes of high-percentage football has helped a disciplined Storm side outlast a willing and attacking Eels outfit as a second-half shutout helped them to a 28-10 win at Pirtek Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The sides couldn't be split in a frenetic and end-to-end first half that finished 10-all, in which Parramatta's free-flowing and adlib football proved an even match for Melbourne's structured play, but the Storm's discipline paid dividends as they ran out comfortable winners in a dominant second half.
As has been a trend for Brad Arthur's men in 2015, errors at crucial times and a lack of polish in attack hurt them, and following Manly's big win over Newcastle earlier in the day the Eels now find themselves in equal last on the ladder just a single point of differential ahead of the Sea Eagles, while the Storm are second on the live ladder behind only Brisbane.
Storm fullback Billy Slater, making his comeback from a shoulder injury that kept him out of the Kangaroos side a week earlier, crossed twice in the first half for his first two tries of 2015. The first of those came in just the sixth minute as Slater showed great awareness and evasiveness to back up after throwing a loose pass to receive an offload and score.
Storm coach Craig Bellamy praised the efforts of Slater in his comeback from a shoulder injury.
"The direction, the encouragement he gives the frontline from back there, I've never seen a fullback be as good as that," he said.
"Obviously he gets a lot of raps for his attack, without a doubt, and he's been one of the most electrifying players in the game for 13 years now. But the way he organises the defence encourages defences second to none. That was obviously a real help to us tonight as well."
Parramatta showed their intent shortly after when a Danny Wicks offload sent Corey Norman into space and Sandow, receiving the ball in support, chose a high-risk chip out wide to Semi Radradra rather than taking the tackle. It was a positive option and only a wicked bounce denied the flying Fijian a try in his first game since hurting his knee in Round 2.
Several more positive attacking raids were shut down by Melbourne's effective sliding defence but the pressure finally told in the 18th minute when Will Hopoate showed good strength to cash in off some quality lead-up work from Reece Robinson.
Parramatta hit the lead 10 minutes later after a Radradra line break got them in range and a series of side-to-side shifts finally saw Ryan Morgan score on an overlap.
Melbourne drew level shortly after when Kevin Proctor, best on field in the first half, shrugged through Norman and got a good one-handed offload away for Slater's second.
The Eels had one last chance when Dayne Weston earned a formal caution from the officials for separate incidents where he dropped his head and forearm into the faces of tackled players, the last of which put the Eels on the attack with a minute to go, but the Storm held on to go into the sheds tied up at 10-all.
Storm flyer Marika Koroibete had a villain-to-hero start to the second half; he dropped it cold from a scrum restart inside his own 10 but it didn't prove costly as Sandow reached out to score and was penalised for a double movement, then at the end of the ensuing set he latched onto a perfect Cronk chip to earn a 16-10 lead.
The extra space during the set was created by an injury to Eels prop Richie Fa'aoso who was taken from the field for a concussion test but returned shortly after.
The Storm went back to back when Will Chambers crossed out to the right and the Kangaroos centre continued to run the Eels ragged down that edge on his way to a match-high 183 metres.
An error from Radradra trying to field a grubber in his own in-goal allowed Dale Finucane to ground it for a 28-10 lead with 10 minutes to play.
The Eels did well not to concede further points but never really challenged the Storm line thereafter.
After the match Eels coach Brad Arthur praised the Storm's ability to stick to their plan for the whole 80 minutes, while lamenting his own side's inability to do the same after another second-half fade-out. In particular the Storm's 80 per cent completion rate compared to the Eels' 58 per cent was of concern.
"We made just under 100 more tackles than the Storm. It's hard to keep fronting up and fronting up when you're exerting that much energy. It's no-one else's fault but our own," Arthur said.
"They stuck at what they needed to do for longer, for the whole game. We just sort of deviated away from our plan. They kicked well. All the little things were spot on. That's what they do to you. They're a good team."
Melbourne Storm 28 (Billy Slater 2, Marika Koroibete, Will Chambers, Dale Finucane tries; Cam Smith 4 goals) defeated Parramatta Eels 10 (Will Hopoate, Ryan Morgan tries; Chris Sandow goal) at Pirtek Stadium. Crowd: 10,505. Half time: 10-all.