Storm primed for finals assault
No matter how hard they tried, or how courageously they battled, a tough Origin campaign finally caught up with the Melbourne Storm on Saturday night as they fell to their second loss in their past three matches.
Next week's bye comes at a welcome time before the Storm start their charge for the finals and grand final redemption.
"We've got the review on Monday and then we're going on holidays," coach Craig Bellamy said post-match. "I think they deserve it.
"I think we need to freshen up and they deserve a rest. It might affect us for the first game or two after that but we'll get good effect from it later on down the track.
"(We'll) have a good break and come back to finish the season off."
After suffering a heart-breaking 25-24 golden-point defeat to the Sydney Roosters in Adelaide in Round 16, the league-leaders responded with their full complement available to assert their position atop the NRL ladder by belting the top-four Brisbane Broncos last week.
But without their Origin stars again on Saturday night the Storm were shell-shocked by the Eels' opening 20-minute ambush as they trailed 16-0 before succumbing 22-6 on Saturday night.
The Storm had captain Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Will Chambers in action for Queensland in Origin Game One, then were then without Billy Slater and Tim Glasby for Game Two before missing an astounding six players ahead of Game Three as Cameron Munster was named to make his Queensland debut on Wednesday night in the Origin decider.
The young Storm brigade more than admirably did the job of filling in and carrying the torch with the likes of Brodie Croft, Ryley Jacks, Jahrome Hughes, Curtis Scott and Slade Griffin pushing the Roosters and North Queensland Cowboys (winning 23-22 in extra-time), showing the future is extremely bright at the club.
Such was the trust that the seemingly hard-to-impress coach Craig Bellamy confidently rested Cronk and Smith after Origin I as his side comfortably defeated the Newcastle Knights 40-12 and then beat the Cronulla Sharks 18-13 on the road.
Stand-in captain and future leader Jesse Bromwich applauded the outstanding efforts of the team during a tough Origin period this year and singled out Croft as well as his brother Kenny and Felise Kaufusi.
"For six weeks, I can't put enough praise on the young fellas for what they've done over this time at training and during the game – they would've learned a lot from this," Bromwich said.
"Crofty's done a good job – running a team at that age is tough. When I was 21, I know I wouldn't be able to do that. It's been our emerging leaders who have stood out. Felise has been doing a great job, Kenny's been solid as well.
"They've stepped up when the leaders are out and hopefully they can keep doing that and driving those standards.
"It's been a great learning curve for them and hopefully they can keep playing good footy till the end of the year and keep pushing guys for those spots."
Several of Melbourne's young guns may be needed again as the club awaits tests on Cheyse Blair's ankle injury that may rule him out for the rest of the season. Tohu Harris was also pulled early from the field as he reportedly deals with ongoing knee soreness.
The Origin period proves the competition leaders are primed for the run home to the finals and on track for back-to-back minor-premierships.
With new acquisition and veteran Nate Myles, Melbourne will be tested and proven battle-ready for the finals with matches against top-four contenders Manly and the Roosters and road trips to North Queensland, Canberra and Newcastle.
They also have the added incentive of sending club hero Cronk out with another premiership win, and avenge last season's devastating grand final defeat.