The Melbourne Storm have survived a scare against the Parramatta Eels in the first qualifying final to book their place in the preliminary finals. Here are my talking points from an intriguing game of rugby league.
Melbourne don’t lose milestone games
It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t clinical, but the Storm find a way to win, especially in milestone games. It’s no small secret that inspirational captain Cameron Smith broke the record for games played in the NRL on Saturday against the Eels, going past Darren Lockyer and taking his tally to 356.
No matter what your views are on Smith, there is no doubting he is one of the greatest players to ever step on a rugby league field. His milestones always seem that little bit more special, and this year he has already eclipsed 350, 355 last week and now the record breaking 356.
The Storm have unsurprisingly won all those games. Of course when you have a win record over the last decade like the team from south of the border it’s hard to not win milestone games, but it’s hard to remember the last time the Storm lost one.
They make it a big deal and seem to all go up a gear. There were times they could have rolled over and let the Eels go past them, but they refused to, putting in a good second-half effort to take the victory.
It was far from their most polished performance, but you have to think their turnaround had something to do with Smith and his milestone.
The Eels imploded, but they have what it takes to go with the best
I’ve been highly critical at times of the Eels through the final weeks of the season – and I’ve been called out for it, which is fair enough.
This is a side who came from nowhere to finish in the top four. However, they showed everyone why I’ve been so happy to call them out over the final weeks of the season. Their loss to the Knights and their only-just-there win over the Rabbitohs showed they don’t quite have what it takes to go all the way, and that showed up against Melbourne.
They are a prodigiously talented team, don’t get me wrong. Some of their attacking plays were phenomenal, and they took the already mentioned lead into halftime.
But if you want to beat Melbourne – or anyone in the finals for that matter – consistency across the full 80 minutes is absolutely crucial, and the Eels couldn’t do that.
They probably have it in them, but there was no better chance to do that than today.
Of course that’s me being harsh on them again. Credit where credit’s due, they hung with Melbourne for 40 minutes when the majority thought they wouldn’t, then only went down in a thriller.
If they can hold the performance for a full game, the Eels can be premiership contenders.
Billy Slater is simply the best
You can’t get much better than Billy the Kid. He has been sensational in 2017 and was again against the Eels, picking up 120 metres, a try, a line break and doing just about everything right in defence.
Even at his age Slater still outclasses every other fullback in the competition by a considerable distance.
Melbourne lost the premiership last year, but the Sharks may have got very lucky on grand final day the Storm didn’t have an extra weapon by the name of Billy Slater.
As long as he stays healthy this year, he will be the difference maker for the men from Melbourne.
How to shut down the Storm? Control the ball and stop their wingers
With the Eels pushing away during the first half of the game, they showed exactly how you can beat the Melbourne Storm.
At halftime in the contest they were completing at 90 per cent. It’s as simple as that. Complete your sets, defend well, build field position and stay patient.
Patience is probably the best skill you can have against Craig Bellamy’s side. Don’t try to force the miracle play, and you’re half the way there.
The Eels did exactly that in the first half as they got in front of the contest.
The other thing about controlling the Storm is to keep the ball away from Suliasi Vunivalu and Josh Addo-Carr. They did that excellently, and they defended well a majority of times they managed to get their hands on the ball. They only just cracked 200 metres between them, which is phenomenally low.
They are the most dangerous outside combination in the competition, and if you want to stop the Storm scoring points, that’s the best way to do it.
The Storm are boring? Sorry, what?
There’s a misconception the Storm are a boring football side. They have blown that out of the water more than a few times this season, and it’s not hard to see why looking at their team on paper. Despite that, there were plenty saying the Storm would simply grind their way to boring wins in the finals.
Yet there was nothing boring about the way they came back against the Eels – nor the way they started the match, for that matter.
The first ten minutes of the match would have convinced you that the Storm were going to put the hammer down and not look back. Cameron Smith was on fire and Cameron Munster provided them with a whole new level of attack. Billy Slater is still the best fullback in the game, and if there’s ever been a more dynamic wing combination that Suliasi Vunivalu and Josh Addo-Carr, I’d like to hear about it.
Boring? Not this Melbourne team.
No Moses, no Norman, no Eels
Unfortunately for Parramatta a big part of them ebbing and flowing through the game was the inconsistency of their halves combination Mitchell Moses and Corey Norman.
Moses has been absolutely phenomenal since he was signed mid-season from the Tigers. Double-digit try assists, control over the game every week – there’s no question he, and his combination with Norman, is a huge reason why the Eels have pushed their way into the top eight.
When they were on during the first half the Eels were a delight to watch. The control they exerted was not like anything we have seen against the Storm this season, and taking a 10-4 lead into the halftime break was just reward.
Unfortunately for the combination, they went off the boil in the second half, and it showed right across the board in the Eels performance as they allowed the purple horde back into the contest.
If the Eels are going to make a run and beat either the Sharks or the Cowboys next week, it’s down to how well Norman and Moses play off the back of the Nathan Brown-led forward pack.
Roarers, what did you make of the first qualifying final between Melbourne and Parramatta? Drop a comment below and let us know.