Published 17 August on news.com.au
MELBOURNE lost three key players mid-match to injury including skipper Cameron Smith but rallied for a courageous 20-4 win over Parramatta in their Friday night NRL clash.
The Storm were at one stage left with no reserves on their AAMI Park bench but turned in a gutsy defensive display to hold out the dangerous Eels.
The victory meant they returned to the top of the NRL ladder, although the Sydney Roosters can regain the lead with a win over Canberra on Sunday.
A back injury meant Smith and bustling winger Suliasi Vunivalu (hamstring) didn’t return for the second half and they were soon joined on the sidelines by giant prop Nelson Asofa-Solomona, who suffered an ankle injury. Initial reports were that Smith’s injury wasn’t serious and he was left off as a precautionary measure.
The injury to Smith has put serious question marks over their premiership credentials according to Andrew Johns.
“If he’s out they can’t win the comp, simple as that,” Johns said.
“He missed the grand final one year against Manly and they got beat by 40 points.
“He’s the most influential player in the game and if he’s not there they don’t win.
“There’s no way they can win the comp without him.
Adding further drama Cameron Munster was sin-binned at the 60 minute mark for a professional foul, while Smith’s replacement, young hooker Brandon Smith also suffered a knee injury and limped off for treatment with 10 minutes left to play.
Melbourne had built a 10-0 lead at halftime thanks to a try by Will Chambers and two penalties.
Asofa-Solomona then made a key contribution early in the second half just before his departure.
The Kiwi prop ran on to a ball from dummy-half and barged across the line, with the conversion opening up a 16-0 lead.
With the Storm in disarray, the Eels saw an opportunity but couldn’t find a way to penetrate the steely goal line defence to make their mark on the scoreboard.
A 71st minute try by centre Curtis Scott extended the lead to 20-0 before Parramatta skipper Clint Gutherson showed his athleticism to touch down in their only points of the night.