The Eels were forced to come from behind after the Storm, minus nine players due to Origin commitments, stunned the home side with two early tries for a 10-0 lead. While missing plenty of stars, Melbourne used their forward muscle to arm wrestle the Eels midfield and surprise the fancied locals with some opportunist tries.
The Storm took a leaf out of the Sharks book and slowed the Eels damaging ruck speed, keeping under the guard of referee Ben Cummins and perfecting a pre-game tactic of kicking dead in goal on the final tackle to ensure set restarts for the Eels to keep the pace controlled.
Parramatta eventually got going with 3 touchdowns in the space of 12 minutes to throw themselves clear, but there was more than a touch of controversy to their charge with the Eels benefiting from an apparent crackdown on kickers being hit by defenders.
A total of 3 penalties, all dished out after Eels halfback Brett Finch was taken down late, the last of which led to Krisnan Inu’s 64th minute match-sealer to put Parramatta’s finals hopes back on track. The contact with Finch was extremely light and surprised many when penalties were awarded to the Eels. However, the Storm continued to push their luck and kept hitting the kicker and feeling the consequences. Parramatta scoring directly from 2 of the 3 penalties awarded for late contact on Brett Finch.
This issue of penalties for kicker interference along with some bizare calls around the ruck, will keep the pressure squarely on NRL referee Ben Cummins. The whistle blower having a poor run of form in 2008 and somehow managing to keep his first grade spot.
Melbourne threatened a late upset when Cronk, arguably the best player on the field, stepped his way over from close range, but there was no miracle for the visitors who must be thankful the Origin period is just about over. Assisting Cronk was upcoming forward Sika Manu, the big man proving a handful all day and bagging himself 2 tries. Manu was busy and when he wasn’t carting the ball up at full speed, he was in perfect position to bag himself some tries and showing the way to his fellow rookies.
Kris Inu was a villain early for the Eels when his knock on gave the Storm an early opportunity to get on the board, Sika Manu crashing over out wide off a Cooper Cronk flat ball. Inu along with several Eels, looked to relaxed against a keen Storm and it took too long for the locals to ‘switch on’ and start creating opportunities. Frustration was a concern for the Eels, with Parramatta having 2 tries disallowed and seemingly had nothing going their way early on. However, the situation changed when the home side began receiving a long run of penalties from Ben Cummins – enough to get themselves on the board and back into the match.
It was still panic stations in the first 15 minutes of the match when rookie winger Joe Tomane raced 90 metres to make it 10-0, a Finch pass clipping Nathan Hindmarsh’s shoulder before the young Melbourne centre showed too much toe for the cover defence.
Parramatta while frustrated early, were eventually rewarded when they stopped running all their traffic mid-field and started working from one side to the other, Taulima Tautai doing exceptionally well to get the ball down in the corner after Joel Reddy had flopped out a Finch kick he had regathered.
Tony Williams crossed to give the home side the lead before the second penalty in Finch’s favour, for dubious contact from Storm debutant Sinbad Kali, put the Eels in position to send Reddy over out wide.
The Storm were unlucky not to close the gap just after halftime as Brett Anderson was taken out as he chased a Cronk kick down the touchline. Williams was binned for ten minutes for what referee Ben Cummins deemed to be a professional foul. Many feeling a ‘penalty try’ or a ‘no call’ was the best option, but Cummins came up with the professional foul call and Storm didn’t receive anything in the way of points from the lesser numbers in their opponents defence line.
Melbourne failed to take advantage of the one-man overlap several times, but when parity was restored they again gave the Eels a fright with Manu getting his second of the afternoon after Sam Joe had tapped back a Cronk bomb.
Brett Finch took out the man of the match honors for the home side, but the Eels will be concerned they couldn’t put a spare parts Storm side away on a day where they could have improved their points difference against competing sides. Opponents are beginning to heavily mark Eels pivot Feleti Mateo and the big man is finding it hard to generate his magic every game as opposing teams study his form. In saying that, the Eels have certainly found a quality replacement for forgotten winger Eric Grothe Jnr; new boy Tony Williams beginning to look at home on the flank and proving a handful for opposition players to stop.
The Storm and their coaching staff would be pleased with their efforts, massively undermanned – the Melbourne club showed they have massive depth and another batch of quality players coming through. The loss today is the 5th for the Storm in 2008 and while they will certainly be in the mix for a Top 4 finish – another minor premiership looks tougher now they have been so heavily hit by State of Origin requirements.
Next week the Storm are at home to the Raiders and should get back into the winners circle with their front line players back. The Eels have a local derby against neighbours Penrith, at Parramatta Stadium as both teams look to get themselves into the middle of the Top 8.
PARRAMATTA 24 (K Inu, J Reddy, T Tautai, T Williams tries; L Burt 4 goals) bt MELBOURNE 22 (S Manu 2, C Cronk, J Tomane tries; S Turner 2, C Cronk goals) at Parramatta Stadium. Referee: B Cummins. Crowd: 12,597