The Storm have taken a step towards defending their premiership with a hard-fought 9-8 victory over a heartbroken Roosters outfit, in what was a bruising encounter.
With this victory, the Storm not only surged into the top four, but they ensured that their former longtime servant, Cooper Cronk, would leave empty-handed against his former team. Moreover, they would claim a fourth consecutive victory, while ceasing the Roosters’ own four-match winning streak. They also reversed the result of the corresponding Adelaide fixture from last year, given the Chooks pipped them by an identical margin.
Here are five things we learned from this match.
1 Defence the order of the night
Regardless of who came out on top of this match, there is minimal doubt that the defences of both sides were the winners of this match. Both teams are the best in the competition in deems of defence, and on the evidence of this match, it’s not very difficult to see why. The first half saw both sides trade penalty goals, while preventing each other from getting stuck into each other with bruising defence, to go into the break at two points apiece.
The second half saw both sides commit a series of knock-ons when attacking their opponents’ line. One of the Fox Sports commentators went on the record to say that both teams place much emphasis on their respective defences, that they forget to focus on their ball handling. The figures tend to back up the commentators, in that the Storm and the Roosters are also among the worst in regards to ball handling.
However, the staunch defence of both sides was evident in that the first try of the match would not come until midway through the second half, when New Zealand international, Nelson Asofa-Solomona barged through the Roosters defence to score his side’s only try of the match. That occurred when Roosters second rower, Victor Radley was in the sin bin for a professional foul. After Radley had returned from his stint, Asofa-Solomona had gifted possession to the Chooks, who would capitalise with a converted try out wide through Matthew Ikuvalu to level the scores.
2 Cameron Smith does it again
With the scores level at eight points apiece, and both teams unable to reach their opponents’ try line too much, the match would invariably be decided by a kick. This meant that there was now a question as to whether Smith or Cameron Munster would score the winning field goal for the Storm, or whether former Storm-turned-Roosters halfback, Cooper Cronk, would do so for his new team.
Munster had twice attempted to perform the match winning heroics with his field goal attempts, however given how badly they were fluffed, they would ultimately be unsuccessful. Eventually it would be Smith who would perform the match winning heroics. In the dying minutes of the match, the Storm skipper had potted a 40-metre field goal, which would prove to be the difference between the NRL heavyweights.
Smith has always been a fantastic leader and has proved to be the difference for his team on numerous occasions, regardless of whether he was playing at club, state or national level. He has done so again in this match.
3 Latrell Mitchell penalty miss proves costly
On the flip side, given the closeness of the match, the result could have easily gone the way of the Roosters. As well as forcing numerous errors from the Storm, the Chooks never let the defending premiers get away from them. After they finally had their line breached, courtesy of a Nelson Asofa-Solomona try, the tricolours would force an error from the Kiwi representative, and would score a try out wide, which would be spectacularly converted by Latrell Mitchell.
Although Mitchell’s goal kicking has improved significantly from last season, he will want to work on his goal kicking again during the week. The Fox Sports commentary team stated that last season, Mitchell was the type of kicker that would easily kick a goal from the sideline, yet miss a simple attempt from essentially beside the goalposts. That would prove to be the case again, as Mitchell had missed two out of three penalty attempts.
One was near the sideline late in the first half, while the other was later in the second half from practically in front. Had either of these missed penalty attempts have been successful, especially the simpler one, the match could have easily gone the way of the tricolours.
4 Cooper Cronk unhappy return match against former employers
Prior to the match, there was a lot of talk about how Cronk would fare in this match, especially given he was up against good mates, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater, as well as the Storm. It’s no secret that Cronk had spent 15 years at the Storm, and went on to be one of their most successful players in history, while earning legendary status.
In this match, Cronk had a bit of a mixed bag. Whilst he produced a solid kicking game and directed his troops around, he had barely and contact with old mates, Smith and Slater. The only real exception was in the second half, where Slater gathered a kick and ran directly at Cronk. To his credit, Cronk demonstrated his defensive capabilities by standing his ground and halted his mate’s surge with a strong tackle.
He even had a couple of chances to win the match against his old team, with a couple of field goal attempts. Unfortunately for Cronk, both were charged down by Ryan Hoffman and Tim Glasby. This shows that the Storm well and truly know what Cronk is capable of doing.
5 Storm surge into top four
Regarding the top four, I said prior to this match that the victor of this match could find themselves in the top four by the end of this round, especially if either the Panthers or Warriors dropped their respective matches. Whilst the Panthers are yet to play their match against the Sea Eagles, the Warriors lost their earlier match to the Sharks in rather controversial circumstances.
This means that, with this victory, the Storm draw level on points with the Panthers and Warriors, as well as the Rabbitohs. However, the defending premiers have a superior points differential to both the Panthers and Warriors. This means that they leapfrog both teams, to find themselves behind only the Dragons and Rabbitohs, in third place. There is minimal doubt that the premiers will want to remain in this part of the ladder, so that the task of defending their title would be somewhat simpler, given that no team has finished the regular season outside the top four, and gone on to win the premiership.
The Storm will meet the table-topping Dragons at home next week, and will undoubtedly want to exact revenge on their loss earlier this season, as well as continue their surge further up the ladder. Their task for next week will be made easier if the Rabbitohs lose their match on Sunday against the Cowboys. For the Roosters, they can still finish in the top four. However, to do that, they will want to put this heartbreaking loss behind them soon, starting next week when they play the struggling Titans on the Gold Coast.
What highlights did you take out of Melbourne's narrow win over the Roosters in Adelaide? Let us know in the comments below.
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