NRL Referee Ben Cummins was in the spotlight again tonight, the out of form referee continuing to struggle as he blew the Newcastle Knights out of the game with a 10-3 penalty count. The Knights were forced to weather wave after wave of Storm attack and somehow held on for almost 80 minutes as they virtually couldn’t buy a penalty.
The catalyst of the penalty situation came to a head with 10 minutes remaining when Melbourne threw the ball away after a scrum without being penalised – yet Knights centre Wes Naiqama was penalised and cautioned for the identical offence only 30 minutes earlier. Coach Brian Smith was naturally fuming at the press conference, yet somehow managing to contain his again – as he pointed out the fact that the Storm were penalised to the tune of 10 infringements in recent weeks, yet remained almost perfect tonight.
The NRL probably have something to answer for after keeping Ben Cummins in first grade after such a woeful showing last week in the Penrith / Parramatta game.
But for the Storm, they still deserve plenty of praise – regardless of the possession they were continually awarded, they remained patient and waited until the chances appeared after the Knights bravely held on for what seemed like an eternity.
In particular Folau warmed up for his eagerly awaited Queensland debut with two tries as Melbourne went top of the NRL table with a rugged 18-4 victory over Newcastle.
Folau, who is the youngest ever Australian rep when he played in the Test last year against New Zealand as an 18-year-old, is set to be included in the Qld side for the Origin opener on May 21.
While Qld will be happy with their squad of players, there were several nervous minutes for the NSW selectors.
Melbourne bookend Brett White (shoulder) andÂ Knights custodian Kurt Gidley (facial injury) were on the bench for long periods after both struggling through early problems.
Regardless the two key men are set to be included in the NSWÂ Blues team, announced tomorrow.
Also a chance of snaring a spot in the NSW side, Knights big man Ben Cross, wasÂ knocked outÂ in the final minute.
Newcastle no.7 Jarrod Mullen and backrower Cory Paterson were also reported for a lifting tackle on Melbournes big man Sam Tagatese, who also had his own problems with a knee injury later in the night.
Melbourne looked to have finally broken the game open in the 46th minute, when Michael Crocker dropped the ball backwards while being tackled.
Billy Slater cleaning up the scraps and setting up Folau to crash over.
But after deliberation, videoÂ official Chris Ward disallowed the touchdown because of an obstruction byÂ Storm front manÂ Jeremy Smith.
Folau got on the board only minutes later, soaring above the bulky Cooper Vuna to claim a cross-field bomb by Cooper Cronk and score. The Knights while defending well, really looked lost on this arial play. None of the Newcastle outside men contested the ball and when Folau caught it – their attempted tackle was average at best.
Folau picked up a double nearing 10 minutes to go in the game, taking a quick fire pass from Crocker and stepping two Newcastle tacklers.
Cameron Smith was successful with both conversion attempts, the final one a tough one from out wide.
Mullen got Newcastle back into the game with a spectacular 88m try in the 73rd minute.
Mullen fielded a smothered kick from Cameron Smith and burst away down the left touch-line, showing enough speed to beat Matt Geyer to touch down in the corner.
But Gidley was unable to convert the try.
Melbourne still had time for another converted try from winger Anthony Quinn in the 76th minute.
The Knights made a remarkable 194 tackles in a gruelling opening half which ended scoreless after both sides were denied what appeared certain tries in the dying minutes.
Melbourne fullback Billy Slater tackled Gidley in the right corner in the 37th minute just metres from the line.
A minute later, Vuna produced an even better defensive effort when he dragged Steve Turner over the sideline when the Melbourne flyer seemed certain to score.
The victory moved Melbourne above Gold Coast and into top spot on the NRL table on points difference.
NSW and Queensland name their teams tomorrow for the opening match of the Origin series in Sydney on May 21.