Storm v Eels: Five key points
The Eels' momentum continued as a young Storm side hit a steep learning curve without six Origin stars on Saturday night.
Eels start fast again
Claiming three successive victories and winning five of their past six matches, the Parramatta Eels are riding a wave of momentum to sit firmly within the top eight at seventh spot.
During that run Parramatta have repeatedly jumped out of the gates to enjoy handy leads on the way to victory.
At AAMI Park the visitors seized a commanding 16-0 lead midway through the first half after Storm winger Suliasi Vunivalu was sin-binned. They offered Melbourne little opportunity to wriggle their way back into the contest before a final 22-6 triumph. The Storm were repeatedly forced to bring the ball out of their own end and made to work harder in defence, often on their own try line.
Eels coach Brad Arthur said it was vital for his side to open the match well against the competition leaders.
"Our start is probably a strength of ours," Arthur said. "We thought it was really important to start hard and fast because we knew they'd come out hard and fast too and we didn't want to give them too much confidence.
"Our starts are really important for us and we'd like to improve our second-half starts."
Storm's slow start
While most teams would struggle with six of their stars out, the Storm's young brigade has carried the torch brightly in their absence over a tough Origin period. Missing skipper Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater, Will Chambers, Tim Glasby and Cameron Munster was no excuse however for Melbourne's lackadaisical start as they fell to a 16-nil deficit after 20 minutes.
Coach Craig Bellamy was puzzled over his team's sluggish opening to the match, particularly after his young brigade performed so bravely during the Origin series to remain atop the NRL ladder.
"I'm not quite sure why, or why parts of our team would start the way we started, it's really disappointing," Bellamy said. "I'm really proud of their effort overall during this Origin period, especially the young guys who have come in and played more games than usual.
"Having said that, they've done a really good job for most of it, why can't we do a good job from the start? That's the disappointing thing for me.
"When we got ourselves back in the game, we were 6-all for 50 minutes. We can do it. We, or some of us, didn't choose to do it from the start of the game."
How far can the Eels go in 2017?
With Parramatta in control of their own finals destiny, faithful Eels fans must be wondering how far their beloved side can go in their first finals appearance since 2009.
In 2009, no one saw their magical grand-final fairy-tale run coming. Are they capable of repeating their heroics again?
With the luxury of next week's bye to come, the Eels currently sit pretty in seventh position with a four-point buffer between themselves and the ninth-placed Penrith Panthers, and are just two points behind the fourth-spot Manly Sea Eagles.
Parramatta enjoy a smooth ride to finish the season with six of their last seven matches at ANZ Stadium with winnable matches against Wests Tigers, Canterbury Bulldogs, Newcastle Knights, Gold Coast Titans and South Sydney Rabbitohs.
"We need a bit of a break (next week) and then we can sit back and look at our run in hopefully playing after Round 26," coach Brad Arthur said. "We set a goal to get a few wins around the byes and we've put ourselves in a good position."
If the blue-and-gold manage to attain a top-four finish, they could cause major damage in the finals series with dangerous threats such as an in-form Clinton Gutherson and wing weapons Semi Radradra and Bevan French.
Arthur also praised the growing combination between new-acquisition Mitchell Moses and Corey Norman.
"Both our halves are getting the right balance; they've only had four games together now and it takes time to build," Arthur said. "(It) usually takes pre-seasons together, and they've had a couple of weeks. They're still learning but the balance was better tonight."
Final pre-departure errands for flying Fijian
With fan favourite Semi Radradra set to depart at the end of this season, the rampaging Fijian showed he is ready to go out with a bang in a final act for the Eels.
Radradra exploded from the get-go against the Storm and caused them massive headaches all night long in a brilliant performance.
Radradra broke a blistering 10 tackles with four line breaks and ran for over 200 metres from 12 runs.
Arthur was more than pleased with Radradra and is excited for a big finish before he leaves.
"It's a really encouraging sign from Semi that he's got some unfinished business at the club," Arthur said. "He gave a good lift and boost for the boys tonight.
"He had a lot of intent and purpose tonight."
Young Storm's learning curve
While Melbourne will welcome their six Origin stars back with open arms, it's been a more than valuable experience for the young Storm brigade and the likes of Brodie Croft, Ryley Jacks, Jahrome Hughes, Curtis Scott and Slade Griffin who showed the future is extremely bright at the club.
While the 22-6 loss leaves a sour taste, future leader Jesse Bromwich applauded the effort and performance of the youngsters and promised they would grow after enduring a tough Origin period.
"We definitely don't brush it (the result) off; it's more of a learning curve," Bromwich said. "The effort we've been putting in has been huge. For me, the first 20 minutes (against the Eels) was the step back but other than that it's been a great effort the whole time.
"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.
"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."