Storm bounce back to beat Cowboys
A week that started with stunning disappointment has ended in the best possible way for Melbourne as they defeated the Cowboys 14-6 at AAMI Park.
The win propelled the Storm into fifth spot on the NRL ladder but they will need to win against the Broncos next Thursday if they are to secure themselves a home elimination final.
North Queensland on the other hand can bid farewell to their chances of a top-two spot and are now certainties to finish third regardless of next week's results.
Life without Michael Morgan may prove even more difficult than Cowboys fans had initially feared. The NRL's third-best attack rarely threatened the Storm line as they were held to their lowest score this season since Round 1.
What a difference six days makes for Melbourne who earlier in the week were left shell-shocked after losing to bottom-placed Newcastle.
However led by skipper Cameron Smith and a determined team defence this was a rejuvenated Storm side.
For the home side it was an eerily similar start to what they had experienced against the Knights as they were caught on the back foot from the outset and forced to defend seven of the first nine sets of the game.
However this time around their defence had come to play from the outset as they kept the probing Cowboys at bay.
Their resilience was rewarded on 16 minutes when Cameron Smith converted a penalty kick in front of the posts following an overzealous Jake Granville tackle on Cameron Munster.
From there Melbourne then turned up the pressure valve and controlled the possession for the remainder of the half.
North Queensland stood tall for 10 minutes but were undone in 28th courtesy of quick thinking by Smith. The Storm skipper caught the defence napping as he played a short pass to Kenny Bromwich who hit the ball at full speed to cross under the posts.
Trailing 8-0 the Cowboys had Lachlan Coote to thank for not being further behind at half-time as he came up with a one-on-one try-saver on Storm winger Matt Duffie.
Two minutes before the break the visitors had their nomination for try of the year cruelly denied. A 70-metre play that included slick ball movement and some Johnathan Thurston magic was cancelled out after the video referee ruled that Gavin Cooper had taken Cooper Cronk out of the defensive line.
Thurston has been touted as a future Immortal but three minutes after half-time he proved he is human like the rest of us.
As Cronk sent a grubber kick into the goal zone Thurston failed to secure a slippery football, spilling it into the path of Melbourne centre Will Chambers who made his Maroons teammate pay the ultimate price.
Back-to-back errors by the Cowboys halted their attempt at generating any momentum as they found little way through what was proving a steadfast purple wall.
The defensive ability of Storm winger Marika Koroibete has been questioned at times this season but with just over 20 minutes to play the Fijian answered the call.
In what was a rare foray forward in the second half North Queensland's Justin O'Neill looked certain to score in the 58th minute but failed get past a determined Koroibete, the only man who stood in his way.
The Cowboys' last real chance of a comeback came with 12 minutes to play when Ethan Lowe dove desperately to ground the ball in the goal area but was denied by the outstretched hand of Munster.
It took 79 minutes for the visitors to get across the line and the consolation arrived courtesy of a genius Thurston kick into the waiting arms of Kyle Feldt.
Melbourne Storm 14 (Kenny Bromwich, Will Chambers Tries; Cameron Smith 2 Goals; Cameron Smith Penalty Goal) Def. North Queensland 6 (Kyle Feldt Try; Johnathan Thurston Goal) at AAMI Park. Crowd: 15,214. Half-time: Storm 8-0.