A great captain’s performance by Melbourne skipper Cam Smith in his 350th NRL match, Manly’s troubles deepen and finals implications as the Storm win comfortably at home.
Cameron Smith stood out like a colossus in his 350th NRL match. The Storm skipper put in a superb shift, controlling play through the middle and stood up in attack with four try assists.
His performance was even more remarkable given he overcame a pectoral injury sustained last weekend, and was only cleared to play late in the week.
Smith showed an ecstatic home crowd his full range of passing and kicking skills, including a set play where he grubbered a kick inside intentionally for Cronk to score. What a way to finish a milestone match.
Hughes a ready-made replacement
Jahrome Hughes was a late replacement for Ryley Jacks, as Cam Munster shifted back to five-eighth. Whether it is Jacks or Munster who settles into the five-eighth role in future, Hughes repaid the faith of the Storm management with a solid shift at the back.
Smith was full of praise for the young fullback.
"I thought he was fantastic. This is the first time I’ve played alongside him – I saw him play a couple of games when I was away with Origin, and I was really impressed by how he performed. Today, he was fantastic, he was everywhere for us."
Melbourne’s attack as good as their defence
Much was made of Melbourne’s top-ranking defensive record this year and little of their attack. Craig Bellamy spoke about how dangerous the Manly side were with ball in hand – but in the bright sunshine, it was his own team that shone.
Bellamy praised his team’s defensive qualities that allowed them to put pressure on the Sea Eagles and score points at the other end of the field.
"The thing I was pleased most about was our defence," Bellamy said.
"Manly scored more tries in the competition than anyone. For us to keep them to six [points], I thought it was a really good effort.
"I think there was a bit of emotion at the start of the game. We got a bit frantic in the first half, but settled it down at halftime. The players put in a big effort for Cameron."
Manly looking for answers
Both Manly’s captain and coach looked shattered after their second heavy loss in as many weeks. Coach Trent Barrett expressed his disappointment after Sunday's 40-6 loss.
"[It was] ordinary. I thought 12-6 at halftime we were still in the game. We missed too many tackles and made too many fundamental errors. To beat Melbourne we need to be near perfect,” he said.
Barrett admitted the side is low on confidence but feels the team can bounce back.
"It knocks you around. But, it’s what we’ve got in the room. Our depth is being tested obviously. We need to patch ourselves up and get on with it."
While Melbourne are sitting pretty at the top of the ladder, Manly are slipping dangerously down the ladder. Things don’t get any easier next week when they face the second-placed Sydney Roosters.
The Sea Eagles are on 26 competition points, only two clear of the Dragons and the Panthers. They’ll need to keep winning to remain in the finals hunt.
Melbourne’s clash with the Sydney Roosters in two weeks could decide the minor premiership.