The Parramatta Eels put together a vital all-around performance at Bankwest Stadium on Thursday night in dealing an injury-ravaged Melbourne Storm side a 14-0 defeat.
While the Eels’ win took them to equal-second on the NRL ladder with the Storm, Melbourne – missing as many as six regulars from their starting lineup – suffered its first shutout since 2014, and snapping its eight-match winning streak in the process.
While coach Brad Arthur’s Eels came into the match unchanged after their narrow loss to St George-Illawarra last week, the Storm’s impressive run entering this game was threatened by a mounting injury list resembling a M*A*S*H* unit.
Cameron Smith (shoulder) and Cameron Munster (knee) are due to return within the next fortnight but were still unavailable against the Eels. In addition to Suliasi Vinuvalu breaking his jaw in the Storm’s win over the Roosters last week, Dale Finucane and Jahrome Hughes pulled up hurt in this week’s training with calf and groin injuries, respectively.
Add all of those to Jesse Bromwich’s one-match suspension, and for coach Craig Bellamy, it’s not just a case of the injuries themselves, but the class of those unavailable for this top-of-the-ladder blockbuster.
But Bellamy refused to use the injuries and suspension as an excuse for his side’s off-colour performance, even as the Storm now have a nine-day break to lick their collective wounds before taking on Manly on Sunday week.
“We had a couple of chances to break through, but it was not our night. I cannot fault our effort,” said Bellamy.
Among the notables replacing the Storm’s walking wounded included Sandor Earl for Vinuvalu on a wing, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui for Finucane at lock, NRL debutant Cooper Johns – son of Matty Johns – would spell Hughes, while Nelson Asofa-Solomona comes in for the suspended Jesse Bromwich.
So one would assume that the Storm’s success would fall on the shoulders of the likes of Josh Addo-Carr on one wing, Brandon Smith at hooker, second-rower Kenny Bromwich, and Ryan Papenhuysen leading at fullback.
However, the efforts of their supporting cast were lacking, in order to make the Storm’s star system effective.
In an opening half that was widely marked with hard gang-tackling and errors made by both sides, the Eels scored twice in a matter of moments.
Mitchell Moses got Parramatta on the board with a penalty goal 18 minutes in when a captain’s challenge showed that Johns infringed on an airbourne attempt by Papenhuysen to come down cleanly, then Waqa Blake ran easily over the try line from Ryan Matterson’s crisp pass, and Moses’ conversion gave the Eels an 8-0 lead.
Maika Sivo tallied the Eels’ second try just inside of five minutes before the break on a rapid three-man move aided and abetted by a lack of Storm pursuit. Coming out of a scrum, Dylan Brown and Parramatta captain Clint Gutherson played quick passes into Sivo’s path, and Sivo ran easily into the corner as Earl failed to keep his role of containment.
Even as Moses missed the conversion to keep the scores at 12-0 in favour of Parramatta at the break, many trends were clearly apparent. The Eels were the more energetic side, but even if not for lack of effort, the gulf in class in the Storm’s replacements showed up in their lack of polish in attack as well as their errors committed.
Another contrast not in Melbourne’s favour showed in their inability to use Earl and Addo-Carr on the wings effectively, compared to looking unprepared to deal with any of the Eels’ high corner-bound kicks and the set pieces evolving from them.
The Storm have made big second-half outputs a great habit this season, and produced a greater overall effort to get the ball into the hands of Addo-Carr after halftime, but his speedy runs down the wing were met with the powerful resistance of Blake Ferguson.
Melbourne were dealt another hammer blow a quarter-hour into the second half when Asofa-Solomona got sin-binned for ten minutes for a high blow with his shoulder to the head of Marata Niukore.
The Eels ultimately made good use of the man-advantage with 20 minutes to go when Moses converted a penalty goal to extend the lead to 14-0 after Kenny Bromwich got caught red-handed, literally, reaching into the ruck.
While the Storm were fortunate not to have more damage inflicted upon them when being a man down, they still had some fight in them to make something out of the match. However, their never-say-die spirit was neutralised by luckless moments alike.
Michael Jennings thought he had the Eels’ third try on the night with 18 minutes to go as he was about to touch the ball down into the corner, but Brandon Smith raced headlong to knock the ball free at the last split-second and out of play.
Kenny Bromwich was denied credit for what would have been a breakthrough try for the Storm on bunker review, but Melbourne were determined to avoid the clean sheet. Moreover, at a 14-0 deficit and the effort being there, the Storm remained in the match if it weren’t for the ticking clock counting down.
Papenhuysen was unlucky himself for not breaking his team’s goose-egg with three minutes to play as Jennings broke up Johns’ high-kick attempt to put him over the line. And with that, the Storm’s best attempt to avoid a historic shutout was gone.
“We let them off the hook a few times, but we got back to playing our style of footy with about ten or eleven minutes to play,” said Gutherson afterwards.
“We knew they had a lot of injuries, but whenever you play against the Storm, you know you have to put in a quality overall effort against them,” he added.
“We worked a lot on our defence tonight, and we will need to attack more as time goes on. This is a work in progress,” said Eels coach Brad Arthur.