The Melbourne Storm have ended the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys' unbeaten run at home with a 16-8 defensive masterclass in front of 20,256 members and supporters in Townsville tonight.
In a scoreless second half that featured never-say-die defensive efforts from both teams, the Storm hung tough as the valiant Cowboys couldn’t find a second and third try that would have kept their flawless home record intact.
The Cowboys will now face Wests Tigers and Roosters in consecutive away games, with a top-four finish to the season still there for the taking.
The Storm and Sharks have all but sewn up the top two spots on the NRL ladder, given both sides are four wins clear of the chasing pack with five games remaining.
After fullback Lachan Coote defused an extremely tricky Cooper Cronk bomb, the Cowboys climbed into the game with a strong opening set that ended with a Michael Morgan spiralling kick.
Coote’s opposite Cameron Munster was unable to defuse it, and the Cowboys kept attacking following the knock-on.
Morgan looked poised to strike but a penalty conceded by Melbourne led to the Cowboys taking the two points.
HITTING BACK WITH AUTHORITY
After absorbing the early scoring blow, the clinical Storm marched down the field on the back of a Cowboys penalty and it didn’t take long for them to flex their muscle.
Led by Cronk and calm captain Cam Smith, the Victorian visitors crossed courtesy of rampaging back-rower Kevin Proctor in the 10th minute.
And although Smith failed to convert, it took just four minutes for Melbourne to post their second try as hulking Fijian winger Marika Koroibete launched himself into the corner to touch down for the 11th time this season.
Cronk was controlling the game beautifully while the Cowboys continually gifted the Storm good field position with penalties conceded, with the count 5-3 in the first half.
IN A MOOD
Veteran Cowboys winger Antonio Winterstein posted a hat-trick last round against the Bulldogs, and the club’s 2016 leading try-scorer was in again against the Storm for his 11th four-pointer, with great lead-up work by Coote and centre Kane Linnett to put the recently re-signed flyer over in the corner.
Ethan Lowe skilfully piloted the conversion over and the Cowboys were back in the contest, trailing 10-8.
Continuing to menace the Cowboys’ red zone, Cronk would have the last laugh of the first half when his sneaky in-goal grubber found bench forward Tim Glasby, whose grounding of the ball was contentious, the video ref upholding the on-field decision despite inconclusive evidence the ball was grounded.
It was 16-8 at the break and despite a 93% completion rate, the Cowboys found themselves trailing a disciplined, committed Storm outfit.
Melbourne franked their premiership credentials with a sublime display of controlled aggression in the second stanza, their defence repelling wave after wave of desperate Cowboys attack.
Try as they might, the home side just couldn’t breach the purple and white wall, while the Storm made few errors in their own territory.
MELBOURNE STORM 16 (Kevin Proctor, Marika Koroibete, Tim Glasby tries; Cameron Smith 2 goals) def NORTH QUEENSLAND TOYOYA COWBOYS 8 (Antonio Winterstein try; Ethan Lowe goal, pen.goal) at 1300SMILES Stadium. Crowd: 20,256.