The Melbourne Storm have defeated the North Queensland Cowboys 26-8 at 1300SMILES Stadium, with a decimated Cowboys struggling to weave together an effective attack against strong Storm defence. The Cowboys were left reeling from injuries to captain Gavin Cooper (calf) and winger Antonio Winterstein (hamstring), while forward Scott Bolton (elbow) only played on due to the lack of interchanges.
The Storm have shown some weakness with their usually clinical performance absent against a gutsy Cowboys outfit, who kept showing up despite their injuries. That will be little consolation for the home side who could finish as low as seventh depending on other results, and are at risk of slipping out of the eight if they can't find a win in the next few weeks.
The Storm opened in ideal fashion, taking the first points, with Josh Addo-Carr slicing through the Cowboys' defence to score within inches of the sideline.
Cooper Cronk looked to keep things rolling with a 40/20 but found the line on the full, giving the Cowboys a prime attacking opportunity. A bullocking run from Jason Taumalolo resulted in a penalty, before a scoot from Jake Granville had the hooker colliding with the Storm defence, only for the No.9 to roll over and plant the ball down next to the posts. Ethan Lowe had no trouble with the conversion, giving the Cowboys the lead for the first time in the game.
The next points came when Granville took another scoot, and the Storm took too long trying to slow down his play-the-ball, allowing Lowe to take another two points.
The sides fell into an arm wrestle until a desperate defensive scramble from the Cowboys gave a penalty close to their line. Cooper Cronk made short work of a hastily put-together defensive line missing Cooper and Winterstein to send Will Chambers over in the corner.
The Cowboys looked like they'd get the last try before half-time off a perfect Morgan 40/20, but Justin O'Neill couldn't get the last pass away, knocking on. The turn-around from the Storm was vicious, going the length of the field before Billy Slater put in a perfect kick of his own to send Suliasi Vunivalu over on the stroke of half-time.
A knock on to start the second half was almost turned into two for the Cowboys, but the Storm players pressuring Kyle Feldt were ruled to be offside. The ensuing penalty turned into a second, giving the Cowboys the ball within the Storm's red-zone, before a Granville grubber was scooped up by Tim Glasby.
The Storm were given some injury problems of their own with Kenny Bromwich forced down the tunnel for a HIA. The interruption assisted the grinding footy both teams started to play, and despite penalties to both sides neither could convert possession into points.
The Cowboys had a perfect opportunity when a right-side raid was rewarded with a penalty as Melbourne held O'Neill down. They went close, again on the right side, but couldn’t score before an inside grubber was snapped up by Slater.
The Storm made good use of the possession, marching down the field before a string of offloads found Slater in space. The fullback toed it through before Feldt scooped it up. The relief was short-lived, with a massive hit on Lowe forcing a knock-on. The Storm earned a repeat set when a bobble from Coote was batted back by slater, and the Storm fullback promptly notched up his third try assist with a deft kick to Vunivalu.
The Cowboys eventually worked it into an attacking position before another outside play didn't result in points. It seemed to be the story of the night for the home side, with their next opportunity coming off a Storm knock on on the next tackle, before Feldt dropped the last pass under pressure, awarding Melbourne the scrum.
Despite a series of attacking opportunities as the game moved into its final ten minutes the Cowboys couldn’t find even a consolation try, before Addo-Carr broke the line close to his own-in-goal and ran the length of the field to score on the buzzer.
Storm 26 (Addo-Carr, Vunivalu 2, Chambers tries, Smith 3 goals) def. Cowboys 8 (Granville try; Lowe 2 goals) at 1300SMIELS Stadium. Half-time: Storm 16-8. Crowd: 21,380.
NRL.com unofficial votes: 3 points: Billy Slater, 2 points: Josh Addo-Carr, 1 point: Michael Morgan.