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'Both were really clear': Roosters in a rage over ref's contentious calls as Storm win on the back of two dubious tries

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18th April, 2024
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Death, taxes and the Storm defying pre-season predictions that this year will be the one when they slip down the ladder.

Inevitably, seven rounds into the NRL season and Melbourne are yet again atop the ladder with a 5-1 record after rolling past the Roosters 18-12 at Allianz Stadium on Thursday night. 

But it was not without controversy with two of the Storm’s three tries awarded despite dubious acts from teammates in the lead-up – Nelson Asofa-Solomona looked to illegally help Eliesa Katoa when he scored in the first half and Reimis Smith appeared to take out Joey Manu when he tried to defuse a bomb before Xavier Coates crossed for the match-winner.

Their ninth win in 10 meetings with the Roosters has Melbourne sitting pretty in first place even though they have not been what you would call slick or firing on all cylinders. But the Storm make winning ugly a thing of beauty which is a joy forever in Craig Bellamy’s eyes. 

The Roosters are starting to drop off the pace at 3-4 following a patchy season which has raised questions about whether they still have the attacking firepower to compete for a title in 2024.

Roosters ropeable over dubious tries

Trent Robinson was rightly a red-hot Roosters coach after Melbourne scored a pivotal try in the first half to Katoa. 

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In the 31st minute, Cameron Munster launched a bomb acrossfield for Katoa to outleap three defenders and carry them over the line.

But he was able to scramble his way over the stripe after the gigantic frame of Asofa-Solomona gave his teammate a nudge forward as he tried to break free of the defence. 

It wasn’t the biggest of pushes and may not have made too much of an impact on the defenders but the Bunkers surprisingly gave the four-pointer the green light and Robinson was spitting chips inside the home coach’s box. 

There has been plenty of debate recently about referees applying black and white interpretations to obstructions when attacking players remain in the defensive line. 

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 18: Josh King of the Storm is tackled during the round seven NRL match between Sydney Roosters and Melbourne Storm at Allianz Stadium on April 18, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Josh King is tackled. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The problem with that kind of interpretation is that when an obvious breach of the rules occurs, like big Nelson’s little shove, it fuels the perception of inconsistency in decision-making.

“The rules are really clear. They came out at the end of the year and if you lend weight to a tackler, in a stationary or forward momentum, then it will either be stopped or if it’s in a try-scoring (position) it’ll be a penalty,” Robinson fumed in the post-match media conference.

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“It’s really simple. He runs in from a distance, lends weight, touches his player and Jenko (defender Michael Jennings) and he (Katoa) goes over and scores.

“Did he lend weight to the play? Yes he did. It’s not that hard. It was really clear.

“It wasn’t an accident. The guy purposely went in, pushed. Realised what he was doing, pulled out. No try.”

Robinson said NRL head of football Graham Annesley had issued an edict about kick disruptors and he said Smith’s actions to knock over Connor Watson and Manu.

“Connor Watson was looking at the ball, standing in the position. He didn’t move or escort, he just stood in the position. Reimis can go for the ball, that’s fine. But he goes over the back of him, stops going for the ball and pushes Joey Manu in the back because he lost balance,” he added.

“If you’re not going for the ball, you can’t contact a player without going for the contest. That’s a disruptor. It’s really simple the roles. Both of them were really clear.”

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Melbourne took a 12-6 lead to the half-time break on the back of the contentious Katoa try after Jahrome Hughes had opened the scoring with a superb piece of backing up from his own kick.

The Roosters equalised when one of their players touched down out wide when Will Warbrick fumbled a Luke Keary bomb.

Cameron Munster earned himself a 10-minute rest via the referee in the 55th minute when he tackled James Tedesco from a quick tap. 

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He blew the crowd a sarcastic kiss as he trudged off but he should have been keeping his head down after letting his teammates down with what Fox League analyst Greg Alexander labelled “a moment of madness”.

“It made it hard for the rest of the team,” Bellamy said, adding they defended well despite being a player down.

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“Handling the Roosters with 13 men is tough enough but to do it with 12 for 10 minutes was a plus for us. That’s probably the part of the game that won us the game. We kept hanging in there and got the job done.”

The Roosters thought they were back on level terms a short time later when Joey Manu split the defence to send Victor Radley sliding over under the posts but referee Ashley Klein correctly called the pass forward.

It was Melbourne’s turn to be denied by Klein when Katoa collided with Keary to create space for Nick Meaney 15 minutes from full-time.

From the ensuing set, the Roosters again took flight out wide with Joseph Suaalii’s bat-back finding Manu to acrobatically plant the ball just inside the cornerpost.

Suaalii curled the sideline conversion to perfection to lock the scores up at 12-12.

Replays indicated the Roosters got lucky with a fumble from Michael Jennings on the previous tackle going unnoticed.

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The match was decided five minutes from the final siren when Smith crashed into Manu as he leapt to reel in a Hughes high kick and when the ball spilled free, Harry Grant dribbled a grubber for Coates to slam the Steeden down over the stripe.

Near-perfect Storm 

Apart from a narrow loss in Newcastle when they were without both starting halves and a few other regular stars, the Storm have not lost any of their other five outings. 

But that’s not to say they have been dominating – they ground out an 8-0 victory over the jet-lagged Panthers, got out of jail with a last-gasp try against the Warriors and were also below their best before late surges to beat the Broncos and Bulldogs. 

Against the Roosters they bombed a couple of tries, gave away some needless penalties and were probably lucky to score one try, but they racked up another notch in the wins column. 

Star fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen is five games into his comeback from successive serious leg injuries and if he can continue getting back to his Clive Churchill Medal-winning best, it will almost be like a new signing for the Storm. 

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Coincidentally they are also trying to get his signature on an extension already even though he is not off contract until the end of 2025. 

As it stands, the Storm’s ladder position probably flatters them somewhat and even the most purple-eyed fan would not say they are in a purple patch. 

But premierships are not won in April and Bellamy is renowned for slowly building his Storm sides to peak in the post-season. 

With the Origin season just around the corner which will take a toll on Harry Grant, Munster and Xavier Coates, Melbourne are well placed to weather that, uh, storm, and surge into the top four for the 12th time in the space of 14 years.

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