Roosters v Storm: Five key points
The fourth-place Storm flew up to Sydney and despite a few flashes of brilliance from the minor premiers were able to graft out a two-point win to earn a week off and a preliminary final berth. Here are five talking points from the 20-18 win.
Roosters suffer a familiar setback
Last year the Roosters suffered a shock opening week loss to Penrith after finishing first, dodged a bullet a week later after giving up a 30-point lead against the Cowboys, before losing the grand final qualifier to South Sydney. This year they have started in familiar fashion, losing a close one in the opening week of the finals against Melbourne after winning 12 straight. To make the grand final they'll need to dispose of the winner of the Bulldogs v Dragons elimination final then travel to either Brisbane or Townsville to face the winner of the Broncos v Cowboys qualifying final.
Roosters coach Trent Robinson described it as "a bit of" a setback.
"You want to go to week three, that's for sure, it always helps going through there. History says that a lot of teams [still] make it from going to week two as well so we've just got to make sure we play well next week, that's our call now."
Storm shrug off injuries and reshuffle
The Storm were dealt a blow late in the first half when a lacerated Achilles ruled out blockbusting winger Marika Koroibete for the rest of the game. He later reappeared on the sideline on crutches with his whole leg bandaged. It meant Kurt Mann shifted out to the wing with Tohu Harris going to the not-unfamiliar centre role. Not long after Harris was involved in a left-side overlap and threw the last pass for Mann to score and aside from Harris once getting beaten by opposite centre Blake Ferguson for a try the disruption didn't look to trouble the Storm as much as it would some other teams. It's not yet clear whether Koroibete will be back for Melbourne's preliminary final at AAMI Park in a fortnight after having 12 stitches in a deep gash. Storm coach Craig Bellamy has a few other concerns with Jordan McLean finishing the match with his knee on ice and a suspected medial ligament strain, while Tim Glasby was also taken from the field with a knee complaint but could have returned, according to Bellamy. Both Jesse Bromwich and Dale Finucane (on his return from a dislocated forearm) were taken from the field for concussion checks before returning to the contest.
Big name players struggle with timing early
It was remarkable how often in the first half the big guns from both sides took poor options in attack or displayed poor execution. Cameron Smith, James Maloney, Cooper Cronk, Jake Friend... they all produced plays they'd like back. While Smith was reportedly laid up with a virus for most of the week it was a surprise to see so many September specialists having a hard time of it.
One Maloney flat ball went out in front of Jennings and a Smith pass went behind Cronk, each leading to turnovers despite not being under pressure. One of Cronk 's trademark bending cross-field kicks bent the wrong way and was easily marked by Shaun Kenny-Dowall under no pressure near his dead ball line. Smith once got tackled on the fifth after an ill-advised show and go from dummy-half, leading to a poor dummy-half pass from Blake Green and a subsequent poor kick from Cronk under pressure for an easy 20-metre restart to the Roosters. The Roosters' best set of the half – which came after Daniel Tupou marked a ball in goal and sprinted out to the 20 – fizzled out when Friend kicked on the fourth to give up possession. You'd expect all those names to improve drastically on that in the coming fortnight.
The ball's not dead until it's dead
It's curious that we still have confusion over the matter but once a kick travels past the dead ball line, the ball is still 'alive' until it bounces dead or a player takes it dead. That's how we are able to have those remarkable bat-back tries such as those initiated by Wests Tigers' Kevin Naiqama, Newcastle's Jake Mamo and Canterbury's Damien Cook. Panther Matt Moylan was caught out earlier in the year fielding a ball well past the dead ball line but before it had actually bounced, giving up a goal-line dropout. On Friday night, a quality Maloney grubber looked to have only just beaten the chasers dead in the 29th minute as Storm fullback Cameron Munster looked to shepherd it dead. But the ball popped up and hit his legs and the referees rightly awarded a goal-line drop out. Smith attempted to argue the point with the officials but really, it's a black and white issue and the rule as it stands is clear.
Moment of brilliance from confident youngster
One of the team tries of the season was launched by some typical Michael Jennings brilliance inside his own end with a line break before creating more space, sending the ball across to the right side of the field where it ended up with young halfback Jackson Hastings owning a three-on-two overlap. The obvious option was to draw and pass, with potent attacking weapons Blake Ferguson and Shaun Kenny-Dowall outside him. It probably still would have led to a try but Hastings opted for a very short chip. It wrong-footed the defence and landed on Kenny-Dowall's chest to hand him the simplest of completions for a crucial try.
"He was pretty good today," Robinson said of the 19-year-old playmaker's first NRL finals appearance.
"There were quite a few guys that were down today, and probably down to the way Melbourne played. You've got to give credit to opposition teams that make teams play the way they want to and it's what Melbourne did to us. 'Jacko' was pretty good, some nice plays and some stuff he could do better as well."