The Melbourne Storm tightened their grip in second spot on the NRL ladder with a 36-20 win over the North Queensland Cowboys on Sunday afternoon at Sunshine Coast Stadium, albeit in a win not without its issues.
The win was the Storm’s fifth in its last six matches, and maintained a perfect record in five matches at this venue during the 2020 interstate hub residencies, with Cameron Munster scoring two tries to lead the way on his 25th birthday.
That would suggest that the Storm are preparing well, with the NRL finals campaign on deck just a few weeks away, with games against the Wests Tigers and St George-Illawarra Dragons awaiting to close out the regular season.
But as rampant as their attack was, coach Craig Bellamy’s high-flying side would be right to be critiqued for not applying a trademark killer instinct, allowing the struggling Cowboys to get back into the match despite them being guilty of making a series of errors throughout the match.
“We were guilty for letting them back into the game. Anytime you let good teams back into a game, they will make you pay,” Munster said.
“We don’t want to blame complacency for setting in, but it is a bit of disrespect to our own game,” he added.
“I was a bit disappointed that we let the Cowboys back in it, a bit of lapses by us, and we needed to exercise a sense of urgency in our play,” said Bellamy.
However, Bellamy put the Storm’s effort in a bit of perspective, even if it marked a drop in intensity.
“We just had a big month, with games against the Roosters, Parramatta, Manly, and Souths, so maybe we were a bit flat today,” he said.
“Full credit to the Cowboys, they came out and played for 80 minutes,” Bellamy added.
As Melbourne’s stock and trade often pertains to dominating in runs and combinations down the left, North Queensland took a shock lead six minutes in with Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow pinning Esan Marsters’ delicate dribble-kick over the line.
However, after their quick start, the Cowboys threw away that prosperity with a series of errors – including Josh McGuire getting sin-binned and Marsters granting the Storm with a fresh set after committing an escorting penalty.
Melbourne would then make the Cowboys pay with a pair of quick tries with McGuire on the sidelines, first with Nelson Asofa-Solomona busting through a line break to score, then Tino Faasuamaleaui landing between the posts unabated from Cam Smith’s playmaking.
With Smith’s two conversions, the Storm had a 12-4 lead, and always looking even more threatening to add to it before intermission.
Josh Addo-Carr would rack up the Storm’s third try with 14 minutes to go on a darting, bouncing run – but the Cowboys could have easily prevented it. The failure of Kyle Feldt to wrap up Addo-Carr was telling enough, but the Cowboys’ lack of support in the chase of the speedy winger aided and abetted him to score easily.
With a few minutes to go before the break, the Storm employed a “take what the defence gives you” approach in attack – which might as well had been an “every player gets two touches, minimum” edict in sharing the ball around widely in between the rare tackles – before Munster coasted over the try line with very little in the way of North Queensland resistance preceded with the presence of a matador defence.
Smith remained perfect on the Storm’s conversions to allow them to take a 20-point into the sheds.
After the break, the Storm would continue to punish the Cowboys for their physical and mental errors – intermittently, around their challengers’ dogged determination to remain as relevant participants in the match.
Munster would score his second try four minutes after the resumption of play, albeit in a more unconventional manner, hurdling over John Asiata with his Cowboys teammates backpedalling to within ten metres of goal, before coasting over the try line.
The Cowboys then mounted a challenge to the Storm’s supremacy.
Marsters interrupted the run of five consecutive Storm tries with a lightning-quick run down the middle over the try line at the midway point of the second half, and moments after Tabuai-Fidow was denied a try against the pylon on video review, Feldt ran under Scott Drinkwater’s looping kick to touch down in the corner under Suliasi Vinuvalu’s tackle to reduce the arrears to 30-14.
However, the Cowboys’ error-prone ways returned, gifting the Storm a pair of fresh set restarts before Jahrome Hughes coasted over the try line with ten minutes to go to restore the Melbourne lead to 22 points with Smith’s perfect run at conversions continuing.
Valentine Holmes – woefully imperfect in his own conversion attempts, at two-for-four for the match – would respond for North Queensland a minute later, running over Vinuvalu to make it a 36-20 game with his second conversion.
Mitchell Dunn, with less than two minutes ago, appeared to be in the clear for another consolation try, but had his feet fall out from under him from 20 metres out. That turned out to serve as a microcosm of the Cowboys’ afternoon – valiant in the challenge, but victims of their own shortcomings.
“When you go down by 20 points at halftime, you hope you don’t pack it in after that. So we battled well in the second half, and full credit to our team for that,” Cowboys coach Josh Hannay said afterwards.
“The club has to work harder on its defensive aspects, we had moments out there where we weren’t good enough.
“We had been encouraging our players to just go out and play and not focus on a structured style of football, and you can see that they’re doing that to try and get results,” Hannay added.