Cowboys v Storm: Five key points
Saturday night's game taught us nothing we didn't already know: the Storm are the competition's most clinical team and the Cowboys can't match it with the best without Johnathan Thurston, although the mercurial halfback should be back next week after Paul Green confirmed he had trained on Friday morning.
Five-eighth Michael Morgan was found wanting with the boot, while Melbourne were a lot better in their red-zone play. Both sides had their moments of dominance in the ruck, but the individual battle of the world's best props was won by the Storm's Jesse Bromwich.
Cowboys' fifth-tackle class suffers without Thurston
The pressure was on Morgan to step up in Thurston's absence but he failed to both generate great scoring opportunities and build pressure in his 13 kicks. The Cowboys found themselves between the 40-metre lines by the end of many sets, and many times Morgan would hoist the ball high without much distance at all. None of his kicks put great pressure on Melbourne's outside backs close to their own line while fullback Lachlan Coote put boot to ball just three times all night. There was probably not enough of a balanced kicking load between Morgan and Coote, and often the five-eighth found himself under pressure on the fifth tackle.
Storm looked exactly like the Cowboys
For the past decade Melbourne have been most known for dogged work in the middle of the field, with their most effective attacking play coming from slick little moves around the ruck involving Smith, Cronk and Slater. But the new-look Melbourne Storm are a little more expansive, showing great sleight of hand and varying their points of attack, with sideline-to-sideline shifts run like clockwork, effective block plays and purposeful changes of direction. While second-phase play has been a focus this season the visitors changed their tack on Saturday, opting for a more structured attack with only four offloads.
Cowboys were best on the outers
Cowboys interchange forward John Asiata said during the week that the best way past the Storm is 'through' them. Well, Saturday proved anything but as the home side's best yardage sets came when they broke the middle third barrier and stretched the 'purple wall' the full width of the field. Perhaps this game was a blueprint for teams looking for better yardage against the league's best grinders, but their compacted middle was really a product of a defensive set-up to combat such a strong pack like North Queensland's. At the end of the day they slid well, limiting the Cowboys to just a single line break, and there was no faulting the goal-line defence.
Bromwich dominates Scott in elite prop battle
Leader of the Storm pack Jesse Bromwich showed just why he is the world's best prop, with a mammoth game against a revered Cowboys pack. Bromwich clocked 161 run metres from 18 runs and 27 tackles without a miss as he single-handedly kept the home side from running amok up the middle. The 27-year-old is at the peak of his powers and outpointed Scott (98 metres from 11 runs, 24 tackles with one miss) as his Cowboys side looked to make their metres on the edges – Ethan Lowe making the most metres (197m) of any Cowboy.
Cowboys take solace from solid defence
A positive takeaway from the Cowboys' point of view was the effort and execution in defence. Along with multiple momentum-killing errors from both teams, stopping power was the cornerstone of the final 40 minutes as neither side managed a single point. It pleased coach Paul Green, who post-game said: "Overall I was really proud of our effort from our guys.
"We went nine sets in a row before we had an error and we were going set-for-set, so it was a great start and we were dominating field position, so we just needed to turn that into points."