Wests Tigers v Storm: Five key points
The right boot of Cooper Cronk once again got the Storm over the line in a nail biting – and at times controversial – golden point clash on Sunday afternoon at Leichhardt Oval.
Cooper Cronk remains the game's best field goal kicker
It was a case of cometh the hour, cometh the man as Cooper Cronk drilled an 85th minute field goal to win it for the Storm at the death.
No one would have been shocked to see the 30 metre effort sail over the black dot. The one-pointer was Cronk's 19th for the Storm, and adds to his two game-winning field goals for the Maroons at State of Origin level.
His skipper was full of praise after the game, saying Cronk's shots at goal were down to perfect planning.
"He just knows how to get himself in the right position and knows when to pull the trigger to have a shot," Storm captain Cameron Smith said.
"I thought he was going to wait a tackle too long in that last set but he just knew what position he wanted to put himself in. He's very calm in those situations and he's done it on some pretty big stages before."
Smith was relieved Cronk kicked the drop goal after missing what appeared to be a rushed attempt of his own in the golden point period.
"Did it get off the ground? Was it a field goal? It went between the posts; that's one better than my goal kicking."
Taylor refuses to blame decisions for the loss
Tigers coach Jason Taylor was measured in his assessment on several key decisions that could have changed Sunday afternoon's result.
When asked if he thought Chris Lawrence should have been awarded a penalty try instead of Richard Kennar being sent to the sin bin, he said: "I thought it was possible. I thought it was very possible."
Taylor also suggested play should have been stopped when Tigers fullback James Tedesco was hit in the head. Instead, play continued and Storm debutante Suliasi Vunivalu – the player who tackled Tedesco – scored.
"He got hit in the head and the player was put on report. Usually you get something for that," Taylor said.
While acknowledging the significance of those rulings, the Tigers coach refused to use them as an excuse for the one-point loss.
"No I don't think so. We can't use those excuses. We got to extra time and had a chance to kick two field goals."
Storm still far from their best
Melbourne has sent a stern warning to the rest of the competition, saying their best football is still yet to come.
The Storm scraped their way to their fifth win of the season to sit one win behind competition leaders the Broncos, and skipper Cameron Smith says they can only improve.
"We aren't playing to our capabilities as yet, but we're still 5-2 and I think that's the one thing that is getting lost with our performances," he said.
"There's only one team in the competition with a better record than us and that's the Broncos. We haven't played anywhere near our best football but we're still winning, so there's a lot for us to build on."
Tigers playing better than their record suggests
While the Tigers slumped to their fifth loss on the trot, it is impossible to question their commitment in any of those games.
Of those five defeats, only one was by more than eight points, with the past two games being decided by a combined three points.
Tigers coach Jason Taylor says his players were understandably shattered after Sunday's result, putting the loss down to errors at crucial times.
"It was a tough way to lose, there's no doubt about that," Taylor said.
"We've got a room full of absolutely dejected players on the back of the effort they've put in. I talked to them at half-time about it – we've put so much effort in every week but we just have made it too hard for ourselves to win."
Stand-in skipper Dene Halatau labelled the loss as "pretty disappointing" but praised the commitment shown by his teammates.
"You never want to lose a game by one point in extra time. The effort from the boys has been pretty good. I'm just disappointed to go down that way."
Suburban stadia hold special meaning
A lot has been made of the push for more games to be played at bigger grounds, but there is no denying that venues like Leichhardt Oval are still essential in the modern game.
There is nothing quite like craning your neck on the hill to see how much time is left on the antiquated scoreboard while eating a schnitzel roll.
Even the walk to the ground is filled with nostalgia as two veterans of the hot dog cooking business compete to see who has the finest snag in town.
The occasion wasn't lost on the Storm's Dale Finucane, who embraced the intensity on Sunday afternoon.
"It's really good. I enjoy playing at the smaller, more intimate grounds where they're sort of more on top of you," he said.
"I guess you notice the crowd a lot more because it's obviously more compact with the people. Obviously if you play at ANZ, even if there are 30,000 there, it's still very patchy."