The impact of Morgan's absence, the Storm's dramatic turnaround and the finals equation for both sides. Five key points from the Storm's win over the Cowboys on Saturday night.
Revamped Cowboys attack fails to fire
Heading into this game Cowboys fans were waiting with baited breath to see how life without Michael Morgan may look heading into the finals. Unfortunately Saturday night's performance will fill them with little confidence as they will now be left praying for the playmaker's speedy recovery. North Queensland took until the 79th minute to trouble the scorers as the competition's third best attack was held to their lowest score since Round 1 this season. Recalled No.6 Ray Thompson, in his first game back in nearly two months, had little say in the outcome of the game which left all eyes on Thurston to try and alter his side's fortunes to no avail. Thompson should improve as he re-discovers his feet in first grade but with finals only a fortnight away he will have little time to do so. Coach Paul Green was prepared to stand by his stand-in playmaker.
"The more time he [Thompson] spends there, the better he gets at it and the more comfortable he feels. We will see how Robbie goes and once again we go through the game," Green said.
"He can probably get himself a little bit more involved but first week back in the team in a key position, that takes a bit of time."
Was that a different team in purple?
Six days is a long time in this game. On Monday night Melbourne let slip a golden top four chance when they failed to account for the lowly Knights. Yet fast track to Saturday night at the very same ground and you would have sworn it was a different team wearing purple. Despite coming off such a short turnaround the Storm were full of energy from the get-go and rekindled the rock solid team defence that took them to the top of the Telstra Premiership earlier this season. Their at times suspect left edge of Kurt Mann and Marika Koroibete came up with several crucial plays in defence. It was the performance the club desperately needed given the disappointment of earlier in the week but now the task lies in bringing that same effort and energy to Suncorp Stadium in just six days time.
JT is human after all
Johnathan Thurston does things on the football field that are so brilliant you can't help but question whether he is in fact mortal. However with the game in the balance soon after half-time the little champion had a rare moment he would soon like to forget. With the Storm pressing forward, Cooper Cronk put a grubber kick into the in-goal area. Thurston swooped in and attempted to quell the threat but instead fumbled the ball into the path of Will Chambers who planted the ball to secure what proved to be an unassailable 14-0 lead. In fairness to Thurston conditions at AAMI Park were on the slippery side but it still proves that even the great ones can show they are human once in a while.
Cowboys fail to adapt
"We're not in Kansas anymore." That would have been the likely phrase uttered by the Cowboys players as they stepped off the team bus at AAMI Park, greeted by typical Melbourne rain amidst cold, windy weather. The night was essentially as un-Townsville as it gets and the visitors simply failed to adapt. A completion rate of just 73% told the story, given that number is usually up near 80% for the Cowboys who ranked equal first with the Storm in this area of the stats sheet heading into Saturday night. Back-to-back errors at crucial times in the second half robbed the visitors the chance to create any momentum, largely relegating them to their own half for much of the final 40 minutes.
The finals scenario
This game that was likely to have just as big a say on the shaping of the top eight as any other this weekend. While the fixtures for the first week of the finals remains undecided, one thing is for sure is that the top three is settled. The Cowboys' loss now means they will definitely finish third and will travel to face either the Broncos or Roosters in a qualifying final. Melbourne have kept their slim top four hopes alive but must defeat the red-hot Broncos next Thursday night and then rely on Manly upsetting Cronulla at Remondis Stadium next Sunday. Should the Storm fail to beat the Broncos they would then need the Rabbitohs to lose to the Roosters and the Warriors to beat the Broncos in order to host an elimination final.