For the first time since 2014 Melbourne Storm ended the 80 minutes scoreless. It was a ragged, unfamiliar Storm outfit though, shorn of a host of stars. The defensive unit remained intact, even when they were reduced to 12 men for ten minutes, but going forward they rarely threatened, making poor decisions late in sets and kicking without penetration.
The Eels did what they had to do without hitting top gear. They defended excellently, as has become their trademark, and they did their best to open up with ball in hand – especially in the first half – when their outside backs saw plenty of action. On another day they could have racked up a bigger total, but there were too many skill errors under pressure, indicative of a team adjusting to the change of approach. By the last quarter it was a pretty scruffy affair considering the calibre of the sides on show.
The Eels remain in third place, despite the win, but they’re now level on points with the second placed Storm. Penrith are one point better off with a game in hand. All three should be locks for the top-four come the finals, but Melbourne will now be sweating over the fitness of some of their absentees. They coped with a stack of losses against the Roosters, but tonight they looked rudderless, a situation that could get worse before it gets better with Brandon Smith looking very groggy late on after he was caught with a swinging arm.
That’s all from me for tonight. I’ll see you next time.
Eels 14-0 Storm
The undermanned Storm were never a match for such a well marshalled defensive unit.
79 mins: The Storm have raged against the dying of the light, dominating the last ten minutes or so. The Eels defence has held firm throughout though, and, right at the death, look to have damaged Brandon Smith. That looks like a busted jaw, or similar, the Melbourne rake caught across the chops with a swinging arm in the tackle. Deary me, that’s all Craig Bellamy needs.
76 mins: Melbourne go full Hail Mary, and it pays off with the Smith kick chase from deep ending the Storm’s way, followed by a repeat set after a Parramatta hand touched the ball. Again there’s a lack of penetration close to the line, but this time there’s a good kick, Johns sending a through-ball type pass for the onrushing Papenhuyzen, who collides with Jennings mid-air, both players jostling for possession until the ball spills loose. That was brave to the point of foolhardy by the Storm fullback at this stage of the contest.
73 mins: Melbourne just haven’t connected in their halves. Again they try to find some combinations to engineer space but all that happens is Kaufusi drops the ball and the Eels almost break through on the counter. A Jennings spillage in contact nips that set in the bud, but Smith soon knocks-on to return possession back to Parramatta.
This one could probably end now.
71 mins: Melbourne’s forwards continue to pound the line, making Parramatta’s defence earn its corn, but they do, and once again there’s no craft in dangerous territory and the handover is executed without a serious threat. Then there’s a stoppage while Schonig waves away the stars above his head after timing his tackle all wrong.
69 mins: Melbourne are on the ropes here, but Parramatta are overdoing things trying to find the knockout blow. Their ambition to spread the ball wide early was to their credit, they probably need to reach for a different club in their bag at this stage.
67 mins: Parramatta claim the drop-out and have the option of a full set 20m out. But two tackles in they spread the ball wide right again, but instead of carrying it safely in hands there’s an instinctive patted pass but it doesn’t reach its target.
Storm gift decent field position soon afterwards though when Hynes kicks out on the full.
65 mins: This game is broken wide open now. The Eels break the line down the left through Brown and Gutherson. Then they threaten right before sniping left again, forcing Earl to concede the drop-out – which Melbourne take short.
64 mins: Storm think they’ve scored in the left corner, but after a build-up featuring superb work from Hynes, Addo-Carr is penalised for a forward pass – the final assist – into Bromwich. Superb tackle from Matterson to force the awkward offload.
63 mins: And that assault almost works. The ball goes wide right again for a couple of tackles before switching to the left through hands where Parramatta’s outside backs engineer the situation superbly, seemingly enough for Jennings to carry his momentum over the line in his landmark game, but he’s inches short! Then, when he reaches to touchdown, Smith flies across and disrupts the possession sufficient to deny the try. Storm live to fight another day.
62 mins: Melbourne are going nowhere fast. Four tackles on their first set in an age and they’re still inside their own 30m. Johns kicks high, but Parramatta load up from deep once more for another assault out wide.
Penalty! Eels 14-0 Storm (Moses 59)
The Eels are in cruise control now. A solid set forces Melbourne to respond from deep, but they gain little ground. Heading back the other way Parramatta go wide again, focussing on the right wing, keeping the ball alive with offloads and sharp hands, until a chip through forces Addo-Carr to concede a drop-out.
Not long afterwards there’s yet another Storm infringement, Bomwich this time, and Moses accepts the gifted two points.
Sin-bin! (Asofa-Solomona 54)
Oof! Asofa-Solomona gets ten in the bin for a thumping shoulder to the nose of the Eels runner, Niukore I think. That was a brutal hit, and on replay looked like it carried plenty of intent. That was worth the binning.
This is not Melbourne’s night. Can the Eels put them out of sight?
54 mins: Melbourne do not look like piercing this skilful Parramatta defensive unit. They’re capable of feeding their huge pack and gaining metres, but in Eels territory they lack creativity. They’re trying to load up from deep from there’s a lack of precision and offloads are turning into momentum stalling drops.
52 mins: Four tackles into the attacking set Melbourne make their move, cutting left, Papenhuyzen running around Bromwich, but just when the staccato rhythm starts to build the ball spills to the ground and the momentum ends. Storm really lacking combinations and crisp timing out of dummy-half tonight with all their absentees.
50 mins: Neither side threatens for a set apiece until Melbourne fashion a yard of space down the left for Addo-Carr. He gains decent metres, enabling Hynes to put in the best Storm kick of the night, a nifty reverse grubber that forces Ferguson to concede the line drop-out.
48 mins: Now we have a stoppage in play, the third of the night, for a suspected crusher against the Storm. No penalty this time.
Meanwhile Jacks has left the field with a possible injured left shoulder, Hynes on in his place.
46 mins: Asofa-Solomona is again to the fore for Melbourne, who gains 25m with a typical wrecking-ball burst in his own 20m. That sets up field position for the Storm, who are again more expansive than we saw in the first half, sniping down the left with Addo-Carr, then kicking high to the right, but again, the Eels are equal to the task.
On the rebound Parramatta break down the right but Matterson can’t find Blake with his offload and Storm survive.
44 mins: Plenty of fizz in the first Storm attack of the half with Asofa-Solomona, Smith, and finally Papenhuyzen, all threatening, but Parramatta have defended superbly all night and showed no sign of cracking under pressure.
42 mins: Parramatta run on the last tackle on the first set of the half, but Moses throws a pass behind Niukore and Melbourne take possession on halfway. Can they make early inroads?
The teams are out for the second half. Can Melbourne pull a rabbit out of the hat?
On the stats sheet, Parramatta individually and collectively dominated. Melbourne only have two players (Papenhuyzen and Welch) among the top 12 runners for metres gained in that opening half. The Eels also lead 5-1 on the penalty count.
Half-time – Eels 12-0 Storm
39 mins: Not for the first time tonight Melbourne make good yardage until they’re forced to do something creative. This time they trust Olam on the last but his chip and chase down the left wing is meat and drink for Blake to claim.
37 mins: Melbourne have not enjoyed the rub of the green from the officials tonight, but Parramatta are deservedly ahead nonetheless,. And for a side that have struggled to score they have shown some terrific skills.
TRY! Eels 12-0 Storm (Sivo 35)
Parramatta take full advantage of Addo-Carr’s error. The ball moves at speed from right to left, Mahoney, Brown, Gutherson, all doing the business in the line, before Sivo scoots over in the unguarded left corner.
Moses misses from the touchline.
33 mins: Melbourne’s defence is on top of the Eels for four tackles, but then there’s a delay, followed by a penalty for a crusher tackle. After the kick downfield there’s another whistle and a delay, and a set restart for Parramatta for more questionable Melbourne technique in close. Glorious opportunity for the Eels.
Guess the pattern? Solid drive then high kick to Ferguson in the right corner, who outjumps Addo-Carr for the third time this half, palming the ball back. This time Melbourne snaffle the loose play and snuff out the danger. Not for long though, Addo-Carr losing the ball in the tackle early in the subsequent set.
32 mins: Solid from Storm this time, driving down the middle and hunting down Jacks’ bomb. They’re lacking inspiration though, especially in comparison to the free-flowing running footy from Parramatta.
30 mins: Melbourne make little of their set of six and the Eels hit back with a vengeance, Ferguson getting in behind after an awful attempted kick from Addo-Carr went very wrong. But just as the attack was building a head of steam there’s a sloppy carry and Storm can draw breath.
28 mins: Parramatta continue to spread the play one way then the other, always alert to the offload. There are calculated risks all over the place: Ferguson keeping the ball alive after winning another high ball in the right corner, Moses hurling a vicious 40m spiral from midfield to the left wing, then Sivo offloading one-handed at pace. Thrilling stuff.
25 mins: Oooh, close from the Eels. A solid drive ends with Moses kicking to the right corner where great mates Ferguson and Addo-Carr compete for the mark. The Eel comes down in possession just a couple of metres from the line, but the Fox and, in particular, Eisenhuth, wrap him up before he can offload or gain momentum to crash over.
23 mins: A couple of straightforward sets from both sides, Melbourne’s ending with another Johns kick to the right corner that lacks menace.
Storm don’t look particularly threatening in the halves tonight, which is hardly any surprise. Then when they do string a couple of passes together Kaufusi drops a soda.
21 mins: Melbourne probe in excellent field position and look to cut through twice on the left flank but on the first occasion Addo-Carr almost runs out of grass, and on the second the tackle is accepted by Jacks when one more pass would have sent the man on his outside shoulder through.
19 mins: Ok, mea culpa time, despite the venerable commentators on TV as convinced as I was at the time, the official call was correct, and Melbourne’s offside overruled the knock-out from Parramatta. The delay to the call threw us all off the scent, but it was the right outcome. Eels deservedly a try in front!
TRY! Eels 8-0 Storm (Blake 18)
Again the Eels expand with ball in hand, carving down the right, then they somehow get away with a blatant knock-on on tackle two – made worse with a penalty going against the Storm later in the play.
The kick to the right corner goes very long, setting up A1 attacking position. And Parramatta make no mistake, a series of runners, including Matterson, hitting the line hard, offloading, and creating enough space for Waqa Blake to cross. Moses adds the extras.
Penalty! Eels 2-0 Storm (Moses 15)
Parramatta are really expansive tonight, trying to spread the ball as wide as they can both ways. Melbourne are wise to it so far, but it promises to lead to some exciting passages. The Eels get into dangerous territory, then kick dangerously towards the posts, but the chase is penalised. However, the captain’s challenge from Gutherson is successful, and the penalty is reversed – the debutant Johns punished for escorting. Moses kicks the two points from point blank range.
11 mins: Solid set from Melbourne ends with Jacks launching a perfectly placed bomb that is chased superbly with a trio of Storm backs scragging Gutherson back over his own line.
From the drop-out Melbourne shift the ball left, and they benefit from the Steeden slipping through a pair of hands – somehow without a knock-on – and the loose ball being collected by Papenhuyzen, who lives for broken field play, dashing like a wild cat towards the line, only to be brought down a few metres short. From the recycled play Melbourne shift to the right but Asofa-Solomona is held up before Smith throws a hospital ball to Johns and the Eels regain possession.
7 mins: It’s offload city tonight. The Eels travel quickly downfield, aided by a set restart, switching the ball wide left and bullying their way through the middle. Paulo has started strongly, offloading to keep the drive in motion, but the ball doesn’t go to hand and after Addo-Carr sniffs an intercept there’s a knock-on and the Eels will restart with a scrum.
Again they look to get their backs involved early in the set, but again a crucial pass doesn’t find hands, this time Ferguson left looking rueful on the right wing.
There’s points in this one.
5 mins: Storm are keen to offload whenever possible and that earns them decent yardage, especially when Papenhuyzen almost breaks clear, but the attack fizzles out when Johns’ first kick goes straight to Gutherson. Parramatta concede possession early in the following set though after some nifty interplay in the halves goes to ground. From the scrum the Storm attack on both edges but only once, through Kaufusi, do they threaten to break through, and the drive ends under the posts.
2 mins: Good start from the home side, executing a deep kick-off and firm defensive set, Melbourne kicking from their own half and Parramatta returning fire on their 40m line. After four tackles they head to the right, then Moses tries to kick to the left, but it is a stinker, barely passing the gain line and there’s a handover in decent field position for the Storm.
Underway at Bankwest Stadium! Can Melbourne storm their way back on top of the ladder, and Parramatta, are they contenders or pretenders? Let’s find out…
And the Eels have joined them. They’re wearing their traditional blue and yellow number.
We’ll be up and running in no time.
The Storm are out on the turf to a smattering of boos. They’re in their change uniform of white jerseys with purple accessories.
Storm are without skipper Cameron Smith tonight, and with the 37-year old out of contract at the end of the season, his remaining outings in purple could soon be counted on just one hand. There has been plenty of speculation this week over what he might do next season with Gold Coast throwing their hat in the ring to rival the interest from Brisbane, while remaining in Melbourne is not out of the question.
What should he do? Stay in Melbourne and rack up unbeatable career statistics? Or, for the good of Queensland rugby, move north for a season or two?
After a couple of weeks playing almost underwater, the Eels will be delighted with conditions at Bankwest Stadium tonight. In the state of the art arena it is dry, there’s little wind to speak of, and it is chilly without being perishingly cold. Excellent conditions.
Storm’s list of absentees is long and illustrious, so let’s keep things as simple as possible. Compared to last week against the Roosters: Sandor Earl replaces Vunivalu, Cooper Johns will make his NRL debut in place of Hughes, Nelson Asofa-Solomona comes into the starting side for Bromwich – with Darryn Schonig promoted to the bench – and finally, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui starts at lock for Finucane, with Albert Vete making up the 17.
Speaking about the offspring of Matty Johns, Craig Bellamy said during the week: “The education he has had is second to none. He is a different shape to both his dad and Joey – he’s not quite as solidly built and is taller but you can certainly see it in the skill aspect and he gets around the field pretty well.”
Bellamy also announced Kenny Bromwich would skipper the side, in the absence of the usual suspects, and he quite magnificently damned him with faint praise in the process. “If I’m being honest I wouldn’t have thought Kenny would captain our side,” he said. “That’s not to say he isn’t captain material. Over his career we have had Smithy, Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater, his brother Jesse and Dale Finucane who all had wonderful leadership qualities so I wouldn’t have expected to see him as captain. But having said that, he will do a great job. He has been in our leadership group for a number of years and he isn’t there to make up the numbers, he has deserved it.”
1. Ryan Papenhuyzen 2. Sandor Earl 3. Brenko Lee 4. Justin Olam 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Ryley Jacks 20. Cooper Johns 17. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 9. Brandon Smith 10. Christian Welch 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Kenneath Bromwich 13. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui INT: 14. Nicholas Hynes 15. Tom Eisenhuth 16. Albert Vete 21. Darryn Schonig
In: Albert Vete, Cooper Johns, Darryn Schonig, Sandor Earl
Out: Dale Finucane, Jahrome Hughes, Jesse Bromwich, Suliasi Vunivalu
Brad Arthur has the luxury of naming an unchanged squad.
There are a couple of milestone men for the Eels, most notably Michael Jennings, who lines up for his 100th game for Parramatta. In the process he becomes only the 28th man to play 100 first grade games at two clubs, following his 122 outings for Penrith. In amongst those bat raises there’s the small matter of 71 caps for the Roosters as well.
At the other end of his career Reed Mahoney will line up for his 50th NRL appearance since debuting with the Eels in 2018.
1. Clinton Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Michael Jennings 4. Waqa Blake 5. Blake Ferguson 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 9. Reed Mahoney 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 12. Ryan Matterson 13. Nathan Brown
INT: 14. Ray Stone 15. Marata Niukore 16. Kane Evans 17. Oregon Kaufusi
Before we get stuck in, here’s a lovely little read on how a Steeden becomes a Steeden.
Hello everybody and welcome to another blockbuster in the NRL, the league that just keeps on giving. Tonight we have second placed Melbourne Storm against third placed Parramatta Eels, with kick-off at Bankwest Stadium around 7.50pm.
Never mind second placed Melbourne Storm, we’re not far from a second string Storm such is their punitive injury list. It’s not just the volume of bumps and bruises Craig Bellamy is having to contend with, but the calibre of player out of his matchday squad. It’s a roll call headlined by skipper Cameron Smith (shoulder), whose influence is closely followed by the crocked Cameron Munster (knee). Throw in the recently wounded Jahrome Hughes (groin) and there goes the three first choice ball-players. Add in Dale Finucane (calf) and the suspended Jesse Bromwich, and Melbourne are without the bulk of their leadership group. You know it’s significant when the absence of Suliasi Vunivalu (jaw) is near enough an afterthought.
But this is Bellamy, and this is the Storm. They are never beaten on paper. Last time out they were undermanned against another top-four rival and proceeded to blow the Roosters off the park in a devastating first-half display. That was their eighth win in a row, and all those victories have featured scores of 20-points or more. They are not to be written off.
They enjoy this rivalry too. Last year Melbourne rinsed Parramatta 32-0 and 64-10, with starters tonight Josh Addo-Carr and Nelson Asofa-Solomona prominent in both wins.
Nonetheless, the Eels must feel this is theirs to lose. Brad Arthur’s outfit has the cleanest bill of health in the competition and his side hasn’t dipped outside the top three on the ladder since kick-off.
However, there has been a midseason wobble. The Eels were upset last weekend against the Dragons, a result coming off the back of unconvincing victories over the Sharks and Bulldogs.
Parramatta’s problems are obvious. They are the second-lowest scorers in the top nine, averaging just 16-points per game since round nine, highlighted by Blake Ferguson’s well documented try-scoring issues.