The Melbourne Storm ran out comfortable 36-20 winners over the North Queensland Cowboys at Sunshine Coast Stadium.
The final twenty minutes, however, will not have impressed Storm coach Craig Bellamy.
After Penrith and Roosters underlined their premiership credentials earlier this weekend, the Storm certainly looked like they were following the trend for much of the game.
However, three Cowboys tries in the last quarter of the game took some gloss off the Storm’s win.
Against the early run of play, the Cowboys were the first to score after just five minutes.
Jake Clifford ran the ball on the last tackle and got a face ball away to Esan Marsters.
Marsters grubbered behind the defence. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow was first to the ball and planted the ball down in the corner.
Valentine Holmes hit the upright but the Cowboys had drawn first blood.
Josh McGuire then had a brain explosion which swung the momentum firmly the way of the Storm.
Whilst bringing the ball away from his line, McGuire felt he was held in the tackle too long and turned his attention to referee Grant Atkins.
Whatever McGuire said was enough for Atkins to show ten fingers and send McGuire off the field.
Just two minutes later, the Storm made the Cowboys pay. One man short, the Cowboys defensive line was stretched.
Cameron Smith sensed this and his dummy-half pass to a rampaging Nelson Asofa-Solomona was never going to be stopped.
Smith followed up just four minutes with a flat pass out of dummy half to Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, who repeated the dose.
By the time McGuire returned in the seventeenth minute, a 4-0 Cowboys lead had turned to a 12-4 deficit.
The Storm were on top and they added to their lead ten minutes later.
Melbourne directed plenty of traffic down the Cowboys right edge and it eventually paid off.
Some smart lead up work from Cameron Munster and Nicho Hynes got Josh Addo-Carr one on one with Kyle Feldt.
Addo-Carr managed to bounce off Feldt and ran thirty metres to the line after finding a large gap back inside.
Melbourne scored again just before the break, again via Smith.
On the Storm’s left again, Smith dummied to Fa’asuamaleaui and held up the pass cleverly for Munster who dived over untouched. Melbourne held a twenty point lead at half time.
It only took six minutes for the Storm to open their account in the second half and a rout seemed likely.
After Hynes made a line break down the left edge, Munster took on a backpedalling Cowboys defence.
He darted inside from dummy half, hurdled John Asiata and scored the easiest of tries.
At this point, the Cowboys were completing at 61% and couldn’t sustain any pressure on the Storm.
When they did hold the ball, the points came.
With just over twenty minutes remaining, Clifford ran across field and found Marsters who cut back inside, beat Suliasi Vunivalu and ran 50m to score.
A great kick from Clifford just minutes later gave the Cowboys some more field position.
Scott Drinkwater took advantage with a pinpoint crossfield kick.Feldt outjumped Addo-Carr for a great try.
With the lead reduced to 30-14, the Cowboys were not yet done.
However, with just over ten minutes remaining, a series of set restarts helped the Storm secure the two points.
Smith was the instigator again, finding Jesse Bromwich who spun around and passed to Jahrome Hughes, who took an angled run to the line.
The Cowboys continued to play some enterprising footy.
After a short kick-off delivered possession, a surge left gave Holmes the ball in some space. He beat Munster to score.
After threatening to put a big score on the Cowboys early in the second half, the Storm will be happy to secure the 36-20 win and just about seal a home semi in the first week of finals.
However, sterner tests await and Bellamy will be wondering whether the Storm defence simply took their foot off the pedal when the game was won, or whether the defensive lapses are more serious.
NRL News Player of the Game
3) Cameron Smith (MEL) – Whether he decides to retire or not at the end of the season, we know that Cameron Smith could play on. He was at his crafty best around the ruck, with three try assists in the first half alone.
2) Cameron Munster (MEL) The Storm directed a lot of their attack on the left edge and Cameron Munster was instrumental in a number of tries whilst scoring two of his own;
1) Justin Olam (MEL) – Justin Olam had one of his best games for the Storm, running some big metres, making 5 tackle busts in the first 40 minutes and hitting hard in defence.