Craig Bellamy nominated gritty forwards Brandon Smith and Nelson Asofa-Solomona as the unsung heroes of Melbourne Storm's 20-14 win over the Gold Coast Titans on Saturday night.
It was Melbourne's seventh straight victory at Sunshine Coast Stadium, which has become their port in Victoria's COVID "storm" with the club using it as their biosecurity retreat in both the 2020 and 2021 seasons.
The four-tries-to-three win became Storm's 11th of the season - and they did it without five Origin stars, fullback Ryan Papenhyzen still out with concussion, and then they lost Kenny Bromwich (ribs) after just 24 minutes.
But Bellamy does have a posse of Kiwis internationals in his forward pack, including Smith and Asofa Solomona.
"The guy that stood out was Nelson. He covered a lot of ground tonight defensively which he doesn't usually do," Bellamy said of his 74 metres, two tackle breaks and 24 tackles in 57 minutes.
Match: Storm v Titans
Round 13 -
Venue: Sunshine Coast Stadium, Sunshine Coast
"With all due respect he played a lot more minutes tonight than he ever has. So I was really happy with his effort.
"Brandon just had a top-class game again, especially in that first half. He was outstanding," he said of Smith who topped his side's tackle count with 36 but also had a line break, a try assist and scored from dummy-half himself.
Bellamy said his makeshift side didn't play smart football but were brave in defence and that won it for them.
Brandon Smith the close-range specialist
"I think in that second half they had about 38 tackles inside our 20-metre zone and we only had four in theirs. So we soaked up a lot of pressure," he said. "Then again we had to defend well the way we played with the ball."
Both sides had to plug a few holes with a total of nine players on Origin duty.
The Titans were missing four but were keen to redeem themselves after an embarrassing display (38-10) against the Sharks last week.
Having Ash Taylor back from injury at five-eighth helped matters immensely, although he couldn’t find the killer punch late in the game with the Storm reduced to 12 men through a Reimis Smith sin-binning.
The Titans actually opened the scoring, when Preston Campbell’s 21-year-old son Jayden Campbell made his first appearance in the NRL to have a hand in the movement giving winger Greg Marzhew his first NRL try.
Campbell, the 2001 Dally M winner and 2003 premiership-winner, was watching on proudly in the stands.
Marzhew who came out of Parramatta’s NSW Cup side to the Gold Coast this year, was finally making his first grade debut at age 24.
Execution perfection from Hynes sees Jennings cross
The 4-0 lead was short-lived as four minutes later Storm replied through Reimis Smith – his eighth try for 2021 – and then namesake hooker Brandon barged over for his sixth four-pointer of the year.
When young second-rower Trent Loiero crossed in the 28th minute the Storm lead shot out to 16-4, where it remained at halftime.
A Taylor grubber had centre Brian Kelly pouncing early in the second half. Then tit-for-tat tries to George Jennings (Storm) and Jarrod Wallace (Titans) kept things interesting midway through the second half, with the Storm clinging to a 20-14 lead.
Loiero gets a try on his home track
That's how it ended up with the Titans squandering a string of try-scoring opportunities.
"It was a much better effort than last week and it had to be ... we fixed that up but execution let us down," coach Justin Holbrook said.
"I thought we were the better side by creating more chances but we couldn't finish them off."
Hughes and Reimis Smith combine to answer back quickly for Storm