Storm too slick for Cowboys
The Storm have denied North Queensland their longest ever home winning streak, with a clinical 16-8 domination at 1300SMILES Stadium on Saturday night.
The Cowboys had tied its longest ever home winning run (11 games, 2014) with victory over the Bulldogs last week but fell at the final hurdle to a precise Storm side that is poised to make a deep post-season run.
The Storm's brains trust of Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk were almost faultless in late-set execution, which proved the difference as their forwards matched motors with the hosts in the yardage battle.
While they defended stoutly, the Cowboys would be concerned with the lack of attacking fluidity and sloppy fifth-tackle options with Michael Morgan and Rory Kostjasyn/Ray Thompson running the show, but are optimistic of Thurston's return next week against Wests Tigers.
In front of a 20,256 strong crowd, the forwards had a real crack to match it with Melbourne, but the lack of polish showed in the end.
The enthusiastic Cowboys were first to post points with an Ethan Lowe penalty goal, but that's when the grind started.
Minutes later Kevin Proctor crashed over off a good line before Maria Koroibete found the grass with a contortionist's try right next to the left corner post as the Storm found themselves up 10-2 by the 15 minute mark.
The Cowboys struck back with their tidiest set play of the game featuring Morgan, Lachlan Coote, Kane Linnett and Antino Winterstein on the back of Cameron Munster's dropped high ball, but that was it for them as defence dominated the rest of the night.
Melbourne struck what would be the killer blow in the 33rd minute when Cooper Cronk utilised a recovering Cowboys defensive line to chip a grubber off the instep to a charging Tim Glasby to the left of the sticks.
Literally no points were scored in the second half as both teams failed to generate pressure with simple mid-field errors.
The home side's best patch came in the 10 minutes after half-time as they pinned the visitors in their own territory for multiple sets on end, but failed to bear fruit as Winterstein dropped it cold on a kick return 30 metres out from the Cowboys' line.
Koroibete had the highlight of the half with a 70-metre sprint down the left touchline off a kick return, but was pulled down by a swag of Cowboys 20 metres out from the line. In the theme of the final 40 minutes, Suliasi Vunivalu dropped it cold with the try line begging.
The Cowboys had their final swing 21 minutes left in the game with the re-introduction of Scott and Tamou, but more errors and lack of fifth-tackle options killed their chances.
They will look to bounce back in their second day game of the year against the Tigers at Leichardt Oval next Sunday, while the Storm are at home to the Rabbitohs next Saturday night.
Melbourne Storm 16 (Kevin Proctor, Marika Koroibete, Tim Glasby tries; Cameron Smith 2 goals) def North Queensland Cowboys 8 (Antonio Winterstein tries; Ethan Lowe 2 goals) at 1300SMILES Stadium. Half-time: Storm 16-8. Crowd: 20,256.