This highly anticipated clash didn’t quite hit the heights many had hoped for. Melbourne Storm eventually broke away for what the scoreline suggests was a comfortable win – however it was anything but that.
The Cowboys were gutsy in the first half amongst a myriad of questionable refereeing decisions and injuries to key experienced personnel. Their grit led to commentators Johns and Gus to say any other team in the competition would have been blown away by this Storm outfit under the circumstances. In the second half things unravelled however as poor handling errors finally came back to haunt the Cowboys.
The Storm prevailed 26-8 and will be more than happy to leave North Queensland with the two points. Their execution let them down at times as they had to toil and grind to the victory. However, they further proved their credentials as the competition favourites.
1 Refereeing needs to shape up
Refereeing decisions were a hot topic of discussion in this match of two NRL front runners. The Cowboys were vying for a top four finish and the Storm were looking to close in on a Minor Premiership but the early stages, in particular, were marred by a series of refereeing blunders.
Should referees have to hold a press conference after each match? Whilst it won't solve decisions immediately, it would hold referees to more accountability. They wouldn't get to drive straight home after the game and, if many are to be believed, they would have to front up and confess; "I gave that decision because Cameron Smith told me to," which would defuse any bias protestations amongst fans.
Whilst it was a positive sign that the video ref was not constantly called upon, this was one game where it should have been used almost every time it wasn't. An example of this came after just two minutes where the TMO should've checked a possible Kyle Feldt try.
2 Storm wingers the best in the competition
The Storm have recruited strongly on the wing for nearly a decade now. Craig Bellamy seems to always get his man, either through the junior ranks or snaring them from a rival club. Israel Falou, Greg Inglis, Sisa Waqa, Marika Koroibete, Matt Duffie and now Josh Addo-Carr and Suliasi Vunivalu add to the growing list of superstar wingers in Melbourne.
Vunivalu and Addo-Carr took their tallies for the season to 17 and 16 respectively with two tries apiece. Vunivalu's jump and brute strength make him lethal close to the line, whereas Addo-Carr will leave the most adept defender for dead anywhere on the field.
They are the best winger combination in the NRL and can lay claim to being the top two individual wingers with searing pace and attacking qualities.
Finals teams beware!!!
3 A Cowboys home final will be a nightmare for a travelling side
The Storm travelled to the Cowboys on Friday night with the second worst completion rate in the competition and it took a further hammering in the dewy conditions as it rained drop balls in Townsville. The Cowboys seemed slightly better suited to the conditions as they muscled up but they contributed their fair share of drop ball too.
Melbourne were fresh for this match yet their attack didn't spark against a dogged and determined Cowboys outfit, aided by poor handling from the Storm.
Any team that may have to travel to Townsville for finals footy could be playing the final footy of their season. The raucous crowd really got behind a besieged Cowboys team.
4 Further Cowboys injuries could end their season
Gavin Cooper copped a stray knock to the calf and Antonio Winterstein has a hamstring complaint. Those injuries could keep the pair sidelined for crucial upcoming clashes against Penrith and the Sharks - and possibly until the end of the season. That would surely end the Cowboys' chances if they were to make the finals without their first three choice captains.
Cooper is such a perfect foil for any five-eighth or half-back with the way he shores the left edge in defence and runs the channels in attack. He's a massive asset and a colossal loss.
Winterstein will likely be replaced by the attacking prowess of Javid Bowen however it is the Samoan's experience and almost non-existent error rate that will be sorely missed.
If the Cowboys win the next two games their confidence will be sky high. But if they lose them both, then injuries may have just about caught up on the Cowboys.
5 Storm to claim their third minor premiership
They now possess possibly the greatest ever club spine when Cameron Munster is fit and the big three are plotting another Premiership to add to their never ending dynasty at the top of the NRL.
It is so difficult to find a chink in the Storm armour. You have to hope they are having an off day to be in with any chance of victory. This is the best Storm outfit we have seen since 2007 and 2009. Melbourne have so much strength in depth that they could lose one or two key players and still be outright favourites.
On Friday, they were not at their clinically most potent with errors and some head-scratching officiating not aiding their cause. Billy Slater and Cameron Smith are in the form of their careers while Cooper Cronk's work ethic and consistency ensures a minimum 7/10 performance in every match. With those three performing and some rookies lighting up the AAMI Park, it is a daunting prospect for any team they face from here until the end of the season.
6 Michael Morgan a starting Queensland half-back?
It was only a couple of weeks ago I was saying Michael Morgan's potential in rugby league knows no limits. This was emphatically proved with a showing so dynamic and strong that Johnathan Thurston may be sweating on getting the number seven jersey back next year.
The explosive half-back was creating headaches for the Storm all over the field through splitting the line, forcing dropouts and kicking 40/20's. His stellar showing will likely mean that he keeps Munster out of a starting Kangaroos position in the World Cup. When alongside Thurston, Morgan has gone missing and too often played a peripheral role. After discovering his career best form, his partnership with Thurston next year looms as the best halves combination in the competition.
If the Cowboys are to mount a challenge this year, Morgan will be instrumental to their chances.
What were your highlights from this one? Let us know in the comments below.
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?