Eels v Storm: Five key points
The 15th-placed Eels managed to stay with competition heavyweights Melbourne Storm in a spirited first half but faded badly under relentless pressure to go down 28-10. Here are five talking points from Melbourne's convincing win.
The concussion question
Plenty of column inches have been devoted to both the increasingly stringent concussion rules put in place by the NRL over the past two years, as well as the remarkable career comeback of Eels prop Richie Fa'aoso from a fractured vertebra.
That comeback ended early when he was knocked out shortly after his entry to the field in Round 7, and the 31-year-old spent time off the field with a concussion check again this week after copping another knock.
He appeared to clutch his shoulder when he went down, but the Eels were able to use the free concussion interchanges to bring him off then back on around 15 minutes later.
Eels coach Brad Arthur wasn't sure exactly what the nature of Fa'aoso's injury was.
"[The trainers] said he had to come off, got a whack around the head, we just work out who's got to go back on. I just went and spoke to him, he's ok. I'm sure the physios and the doctors need to have a look at him," Arthur said.
Storm coach Craig Bellamy – who mentored Fa'aoso at the Storm in their 2012 premiership season – said he'd been more concerned for his former charge's wellbeing than for his opposition's interchange tally.
"Richie played in our club and he played in our grand final side in 2012, so I was more concerned about him than the interchange I suppose," he said.
"But I think you're always going to get some touchy changes there at times. Obviously we're trying to do the right thing through concussion. Without a doubt everyone in the game supports that, but at some stage there's going to be a couple of grey areas. And tonight was one of those. I couldn't really comment on that. At the time I was just a bit worried about Richie to be quite honest."
Sandow's high-risk play a turning point
With the sides locked at 10-all early in the second half, Storm winger Marika Koroibete dropped it cold from a scrum at his own line. Eels half Chris Sandow scooped it up and went for the line. Despite being brought down just short he reached out and planted the ball over the line and was penalised for a double movement, having also been ruled to have taken his advantage from Melbourne's error.
The Storm made Sandow pay, scoring at the end of the ensuing set for a classic 12-point turnaround.
Arthur refused to criticise his halfback for the "heat of the moment" decision.
"It was a big moment in the game but we probably need to learn to respond a little bit [better]," he said.
"I thought there were some moments in the first half too that went against us and we stuck to what we needed to do and just maybe in the second half they stuck to what they wanted to do for 80 minutes and we didn't."
Arthur agreed with the double movement call but questioned whether his side may have been entitled to retain possession after Koroibete's error.
"I thought we'd get the ball back from the advantage ruled. They dropped the ball. I've seen plenty of that throughout nine rounds. He might have taken his advantage by trying to score the try but I've seen them pulled back plenty of times too. I just thought we might have got the ball back."
Slater's winning return
Billy Slater once again stamped his class on proceeding, as he has a habit of doing. Both in attack - with two first-half tries - and his phenomenal support play, as well as organisation in defence and sheer competitiveness, Slater was a key factor in the result.
After the game he said he'd been disappointed to be a late withdrawal from the Anzac Test a week earlier but the shoulder injury had pulled up fine.
His early exit from the game – subbed off with around nine minutes to go – had been precautionary.
"He scored two tries – they're the first tries he's scored this year, so he's had a bit of a drought in the first four, five weeks that he played," Bellamy said.
"But he made a couple of really good tackles as well. But the direction, the encouragement he gives the frontline from back there, I've never seen a fullback be as good as that.
"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."
Kiwis stand up for Storm
While Slater may have grabbed the headlines, Melbourne's New Zealand Test players Jesse Bromwich, Tohu Harris and Kevin Proctor played decisive roles.
Bromwich was typically massive – his 167 metres was the most of any forward in the game – but Proctor was close to best on field. His try assist for Slater's second was all class and his right-edge runs caused massive headaches for the Eels all game.
Slater praised the platform the trio helped create for his match-winning turn.
"They're a big part of our football side here at the Melbourne Storm, they've taken their game to another level," he said.
"They're going to continue to do that, they're quite young in age and I'm sure they're going to improve as footballers."
Key win as Origin looms
The Storm are one of the more affected sides during the mid-year interstate series, with pretty much their entire playmaking roster of Slater, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk involved.
Bellamy noted the importance of getting a win heading into a tricky part of the season, and suggested he may give his Origin stars a rest from club duties during that period.
"Coming into Origin, which is a really tough period for a lot of clubs and certainly it is for us, we'll be doing a lot of planning and trying to get through there as scar-free as possible," he said.
"But we know we're going to take a couple more hits at some stage. We've got a lot of travelling through Origin this year as well. So there mightn't be some times where you stand our players down that play Origin. Like I said, it's going to take a bit of planning."