Storm go top with one-point win
A purple haze has emerged brightly on the Telstra Premiership radar after Melbourne captain Cameron Smith engineered a thrilling one-point win over the defending premiers from North Queensland at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.
Vindicating taking a home game on the road to record their sixth straight win at Queensland's home of rugby league, a judicious decision by Smith to take a field goal 10 minutes from full-time was all that separated two sides who came into the clash locked together on top of the table.
The Storm moved to the outright competition lead with their eighth win of the season and showed with the NRL's best defence and two of the game's sharpest minds at the helm that they have all the qualities needed to challenge for the title later in the year.
Smith made 62 tackles and laid on the Storm's opening try for Tohu Harris that helped to swing momentum Melbourne's way after the Cowboys had dominated territory and possession for the opening quarter.
Two tries in the space of three minutes in the first half enabled the Storm to take a 12-8 lead into half-time and their resolute defence kept the Cowboys attack to a solitary try in the second term.
A Storm penalty goal four minutes into the second half took their lead out to six points but the energy of Jake Granville finally started to pull apart the strings holding the Storm defence together.
His darts out of dummy-half put Melbourne on the back foot and when they finally earned some field position 15 minutes into the second half it was Granville who threw the key pass for an exquisitely worked move for Michael Morgan to burst through virtually untouched.
A long-range run by Suliasi Vunivalu brought the capacity crowd to their feet 18 minutes from full-time before a trademark Johnathan Thurston ankle tap and excellent follow-up tackle from Jason Taumalolo snuffed out the Storm's chance to retake the lead.
In a pulsating finale to the opening game of the double-header another superb Cowboys set piece put Antonio Winterstein into space and in sight of the tryline, Cameron Munster and Tohu Harris somehow grounding him inches short of the line.
Lachlan Coote did likewise to Cooper Cronk at the other end just moments later but on the end of a seven-tackle set nine minutes from full-time Smith took the opportunity to sneak his side in front with the second field goal of his 319-game career.
In the opening 40 minutes players from both teams struggled to corral kicks sent high into the Brisbane air. The unfamiliar sight of Thurston kicking without headgear temporarily obviously caught Vunivalu off guard early on, the Storm winger spilling a fairly straightforward bomb straight into the arms of Gavin Cooper who dummied past Cameron Munster to dive over after three minutes.
The Cowboys earned a penalty goal after Marika Koroibete took his turn at dropping a tormenting Thurston bomb but despite owning 70 per cent of possession in the first 20 minutes – the lion's share of which was spent inside Storm territory – they failed to put any further indents in Melbourne's defence.
While the best defence in the NRL was able to withstand the initial onslaught the Cowboys weren't quite as proficient, Melbourne scoring two tries in the space of three minutes to turn an 8-0 deficit after 22 minutes into a 12-8 lead with only 44 per cent of possession that they took into half-time.
A penalty against the Cowboys for a strip gifted the Storm some rare field position and Cameron Smith exposed the Cowboys' goal-line defence with a short pass to Harris who crashed over in the 23rd minute.
Then at the end of the next set a Cooper Cronk bomb was spilled by Cowboys custodian Lachlan Coote and Kevin Proctor plucked the Steeden from his laces to power his way over in the 26th minute.
The Storm were dealt a blow on the stroke of half-time when Ben Hampton was forced from the field with a suspected torn calf.
Melbourne Storm 15 (Tohu Harris, Kevin Proctor tries; Cameron Smith 3 goals, Smith field goal) defeated North Queensland Cowboys 14 (Gavin Cooper, Michael Morgan tries; Johnathan Thurston 3 goals) at Suncorp Stadium. Half-time: Storm 12-8.