ROUND 8: Melbourne Storm v. Sydney Roosters (Suncorp Stadium, 2/7/20)
Cameron Munster was out for the Storm and Cameron Smith was at halfback again when they rocked up at Suncorp to host the Roosters on Thursday night. Melbourne got the first restart, on their first carry, while the away crowd got a bad flashback to last week’s horror injury run when Nat Butcher was winded early in the second Roosters set, due to a big shot from Justin Olam. Luckily, he got to his feet, albeit gingerly, and the game got into gear as Josh Ado-Carr cleaned up Kyle Flanagan’s first bomb without too much trouble, even though he couldn’t contest James Tedesco under Smith’s first kick of the night in the halfback jersey a set later. Suliasi Vunivalu made big metres on the next kick return, and the Fox followed suit, as the two Storm wingers built a good platform for the Bromwich brothers, who consolidated Melbourne into their best attacking opportunity so far. Jahrome Hughes opted for a kick to the right edge, where Vunivalu tapped it back, but Butcher collected it easily, before Jared Waerea-Hargreaves made the best offload so far, setting up Jake Friend to almost send Teddy through the line. Still, Papenhuyzen proved safe beneath the bomb, and the Storm got going once again.
A long run from Daniel Tupou now got the Roosters their best field position in a few sets, and Flanagan responded with a cut-out pass to Joseph Manu halfway down the field, before a second superb offload from JWH set up a rapid left sweep that saw Christian Welch barge in to clean up Brett Morris on the wing. Welch’s presence of mind seemed to galvanise his men, who got a twenty-metre restart after Papenhuyzen let an overlong kick go dead, but they didn’t do much with the additional field position, wasting a tackle on play four, when Smith and Dale Finucane hesitated in the middle of the field, and not even getting to their last tackle option, since Paul Momirovski reached out a hand to play at a pass from Hughes, knocking the ball backward for Tupou to scoop up into his chest. Keary bombed at the end of the set, Tupou knocked it back, and then got a second touch to it, but Vunivalu still regathered it, as both teams settled into a set-for-set rhythm, thwarting each other’s most inspired and ingenious plays. Melbourne now had their quickest set, but they accelerated too rapidly, resulting in a lost ball from Justin Olam that Brett Morris picked up, running several metres with Papenhuyzen on his back before shifting it back inside for Flanagan to crash over untouched.Embed from Getty Images
Flanno also added the extras, making it 0-6, but Melbourne managed to recapture the energy of their last set immediately, as Ado-Carr scooped up a lost ball from Flanagan early in the tackle count, and then ran the length of the field to ground the first four points for Melbourne. Full credit goes to Olam, too, who got some joy after letting through the first Roosters try with the tackle on Flanagan that dislodged the intended pass to Manu. In effect, he provided the try assist that got Melbourne level once Smith booted through the conversion with ease, despite a sterling effort from JWH to force Ado-Carr to curve away from the crossbars. The Storm got six again early in the restart, and Smith got them some extra field position with an offload in the middle of the park for Papenhuyzen to storm up the left edge, before the purple army got a fresh restart, and headed right on the last tackle, only for Tupou to collect a fairly standard ball from Hughes, who took out his frustration with the first penalty of the match on the very next play – a dangerous hit that piggy-backed Sydney City back up the park.
Tedesco put in some dazzling footwork on the second last tackle, but Papenhuyzen collected the ball on the line, and withstood a pack effort of Roosters trying to slam him back in goal, although the Chooks did keep the Storm within their own ten until the third tackle, and their own fifteen until the last. Finally, Smith booted a huge ball from the twenty, but Teddy’s footwork was just as good on the kick return, bringing his men to the halfway line, where they got their first six again, before Teddy took the first run of the restart as well. Two Keary offloads – to Crichton and Manu – set up the Roosters for more metres, so it was a big loss when Boyd Cordner dropped the ball cold, although this marked the start of the fastest sequence of turnovers in the game so far. A tackle later, Vunivalu fed the footy to Crichton while attempting a risky offload right on the line, before slamming in with Felise Kaufusi for a bone-rattling combined tackle on Brett Morris on the outside edge. The initial call was knock-on for Morris, but a successful Captain’s Challenge showed that he hadn’t flicked the footy forward, and that the handling error had actually come from Kaufusi – a big win for the Roosters, although a subsequent error from Teddy prevented them capitalizing on it.Embed from Getty Images
This was one of the more unusual Challenges in that Cordner seemed to make the call a whole minute after the play – a big difference from last week’s Brisbane game when Glenn was told he hadn’t made the Challenge request in time. On the other side of the Steeden, the Roosters got their biggest defensive challenge so far about five minutes later, when Crichton made an error in the play-the-ball on the first tackle, Flanagan conceded an offside penalty, and Melbourne got two successive restarts. Still, the Chooks stayed strong, as four defenders slammed in to prevent Tino Faasuamaleaui crossing over beneath the posts, before trapping Papenhuyzen on the right sideline on the final play, where he looked for an offload but instead slide over the chalk ball and all. Faasuamaleaui and Brandon Smith got some closure with a monster tackle on Lindsay Collins a moment later, ricocheting him sideways to get the Storm a sudden sequel to this splendid bout of field position, but the Roosters were the next to score, thanks to a superb kick from Keary that landed pitch-perfect on the chest of Tupou, who tapped it back for Josh Morris to shrug off Vunivalu, and maintain possession with Momirovski on his back, slamming down the second try of the night for the Tricolours.
Once more the Roosters were six ahead, and once more the Storm made up the difference with an intercept try. Two minutes back from the break, Tom Eisenhuth caught a Cordner offload on the full, popping it across to Hughes, who ran forty metres to score beneath the score before Smith, like Flanagan, made it 2/2 with the kicks. The Storm got their next chance with a rare forward pass from Josh Morris, but Flanagan made up for it by preventing a risky short-side play from Papenhuyzen on the final tackle. Weirdly, Josh Morris made another error, in the same part of the field, on the next set, receiving the footy from Keary but losing it immediately into a low tackle from Kaufusi. Melbourne now had 5/5 completions in the second half compared to the Roosters’ 1/4, so they needed to capitalise here before the last tackle options started to equalize. Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Faasuamaleauii took the first two hits, before Smith shifted the direction of play and Papenhuyzen channeled Teddy was some deft footwork in the middle of the park, but the Roosters stayed strong in goal line defence, only to turn the ball over on their very first carry.Embed from Getty Images
Melbourne now reversed the start of the last set, as Faasuamaleuai took the first tackle, and NAS almost smashed through to the left of the posts, losing some of their mojo when a bad ball from Smith bounced by Hughes, forcing Momirovski to scramble for it on the right edge. Hughes kicked under pressure, and Ado-Carr picked it up and got it across to Papenhuyzen, who once again headed for the short side, but was dragged over the sideline by four Sydney City defenders. Both teams got a rest when Smith kicked for the sideline a set later, and the Roosters made the most of it with a sublime acceleration up the left edge – a pass from Keary to Cordner, and a bouncing ball from Cordner that Josh Morris nevertheless scooped up and offloaded to Tedesco, who shot it across to Keary in turn, setting up the pace and field position for a rapid shift back to the other side of the field. Friend got the right sweep rolling with a huge pass to Flanagan, and the Steeden then moved through Flanagan and Collins before Crichton popped it across Manu’s chest to send Brett Morris across the chalk for his 160th try. Flanagan was just as good from the right sideline, swinging the ball perfectly to curve it through the posts, as the Chooks resumed their six point lead with aplomb.
The Roosters now had their best defensive set in a while, culminating with Tedesco stripping the footy from Welch after Finucane almost sent him across beneath the crossbars, only for Collins to leak an offside penalty a moment later. Finucane now offloaded again, this time to Smith, and Welch got another shot beside the posts, carrying three defenders along with him, and copping a gash above the right eye that saw the game paused for him to receive medical attention. It paused again two tackles later, when Collins was taken off the field for an HIA following a low hit on Jesse Bromwich, and so Melbourne’s momentum was pretty fragmented by the time they arrived at their last kick, which ended with Tupou collecting Hughes’ ball in goal, and Keary barking out orders to his men as he brought it back to the twenty for a seven tackle set. In yet another twist, however, Manu lost the footy on the very first play – part of a worrying pattern for Sydney City – giving the Storm a chance at a more seamless, less interrupted set to culminate all their recent field positon. Smith dummied right and passed left on the first play, starting a set where the Storm shifted from side to side, but it all ended with an obstruction penalty from Finucane after Ado-Carr glimpsed a hole in the line.Embed from Getty Images
The Roosters got their next try off a sublime pair of runs from the Morris brothers – a frantic run at the start of the set from Brett, who eluded three or four tackles, and then an unbelievable carry at the end from Josh, who collected the footy from Keary, and busted his way through a tackle from Vunivalu, bending to his knees to prevent the big winger dragging him over the sideline, and literally pivoting around his right shoulder, limbs flailing in the air, to slam down the most spectacular try of the game. Yet the Storm came back, and came back big, with a pair of back-to-back tries ten minutes out from the end, the first of which saw Hughes collect a wide ball on the right edge, then dodge and weave around three defenders to bring it to a four point game when Smith added the extras from right in front. The purple army scored again on the restart, when Tupou had a clean shot on the high ball, but followed a night of safe collections by dropping it cold, leaving it open for Hughes to set up a harbor bridge pass to Momirovski, who pivoted away from Josh Morris and Tupou to the line, where he slammed through a last-ditch effort from Keary to level the scoreline.
With six and a half minutes on the clock, Smith’s conversion put Melbourne ahead for the first time all night, although Flanagan showed he could go shot-for-shot with the master by slotting through an incredible penalty kick following a high tackle from Vunivalu on Tedesco a minute later. For a moment, appeared to have won the match with a field goal forty seconds out from the siren, but a second mistake from Tupou set up Papenhuyzen to level the scoreline 25-25 a single second from the siren, taking the game into golden point. The rest went Melbourne’s way, as Cordner made an error in the play-the-ball in the second between taking a huge hit from Hughes and being sent off for an HIA, before Friend was penalised in front of the posts off a huge run from Finucane, setting up Smith to boot through the match-winning goal at the sixty-fifth minutes, for the first Storm win off a penalty kick. This was an epic comeback from Melbourne, but also pretty unlucky for the Roosters, and for Cordner in particular, so the Tricolours will be looking to pile on the points when they rock up to meet the Cowboys at Townsville for the first game of Round 9, while the Storm will be looking for a bigger win margin when they play Canberra on Campbelltown.
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