The key talking points to come from Melbourne's tight with over South Sydney in Perth on Sunday night.
League leaders show defensive steel again
After making history in equaling the record for most points scored in a loss in a 38-36 defeat to the Gold Coast Titans, the Melbourne Storm held the South Sydney Rabbitohs to just six points in a slim eight-point win.
It was the first time the NRL’s stingiest defence conceded less than 12 points since Round 6, and it was also the third time they allowed just six points this year.
Captain Cameron Smith said after the game, defence was their priority.
“There wasn’t much of a game plan this week – it was all about or defence,” Smith said. “Tonight we wanted to defend our way to a win and I thought we did that really well.”
Melbourne made 408 tackles as a team to the Rabbitohs’ 348, and Smith definitely played his part, making a game-high 50 tackles.
The victory ensures the Storm stay atop the ladder with a well-deserved bye next round before taking on the Newcastle Knights at home the following Friday night.
Souths show potential
Despite the narrow loss, South Sydney showed why they could be better than their 4-7 record if they played with the same effort each week. Currently holding the fifth-worst defensive rank in the NRL, it was the fourth time the Bunnies conceded less than 20 points this season.
Holding the Storm – who possess a star-studded backline – to 14 points is no mean feat, which follows up their 20-point win over Wests Tigers where they allowed eight points.
“There’s a lot of great signs within this team,” Souths coach Michael Maguire said. “We want to get those results and we’re working hard for them.
“We’ve been working hard on our defence and that showed. We’ll continue to work hard.”
Defence Is just one part of the equation and against Melbourne it’s essential to make the most of the few opportunities that presents themselves.
Maguire admitted his side’s lack of execution himself.
“Our completion rate was good,” Maguire said. “There were moments where it swung both ways but they were able to capitalise.”
It will be intriguing to see if South Sydney can sustain their recent efforts and improve for a vital Friday night clash against the Parramatta Eels.
Tale of two halves
While they were strong defensively, it was a story of contrasting halves for the Storm with the ball.
They established a 10-6 half-time lead after completing 17 out of 20 sets to apply plenty of pressure on the Rabbitohs.
However, in the second half, the Storm dropped in intensity to complete 13 out of 19 sets which South Sydney desperately sought to exploit.
While Melbourne held on to win, it may have been a different result if not for their league-best defence.
“We got it half right this week,” coach Craig Bellamy said after the match.
“It wasn’t a pretty win but I was really pleased we showed a lot of our traits.
“Hopefully we can improve next week.”
Origin spots on the line
While Smith and Cooper Cronk are obvious selections for the Queensland Maroons, Billy Slater demonstrated why he deserves one last swansong as part of a legendary side that will be etched in history forever.
Slater showed his ability on both sides of the ball against the Bunnies, posing a dangerous threat in attack and a reliable form of defensive security at the back.
Slater would join Smith, Cronk and Australian centre Will Chambers. Dale Finucane could also join the Origin series in earning a NSW Blues debut after making 18 runs for 132 metres along with 42 tackles.
For South Sydney, Adam Reynolds is likely to miss out on selection while Robbie Farah may have displayed enough at hooker to reclaim his Blues jumper if Peter Wallace is ruled out with injury.
Burgess's massive display
In a bright spot for South Sydney, Sam Burgess was outstanding for the Rabbitohs after going close to earning man-of-the-match honours. Since leading England to a strong win in the Representative Round, Burgess has carried that form back into the NRL in the past few weeks.
Burgess took 25 hit-ups for 183 metres and five tackle breaks against the competition’s best defence in the Storm. He also added an impressive 42 tackles.
With a performance like that, you’d think he was playing for Origin selection this week.