Melbourne Storm captain Cameron Smith remains confident his side can still contend for the NRL premiership despite falling to a 16-10 loss to lowly New Zealand Warriors on Friday night
With a sell-out crowd of 28,716 screaming for both sides thanks to a hearty Kiwi contingent, the Warriors dominated the first half and the Storm the second although the Warriors made a better fist of their scoring chances to claim just their third win this season.
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Melbourne Storm's sluggish season continued as they went down 16-10 to the Warriors at AAMI Park on Friday night.
The Storm, who now sit at 4-4, did score a win at the box office with an AAMI Park record for Storm matches, further entrenching Anzac night rugby league in Melbourne.
Warriors lock Sebastine Ikahihifo won the Anzac Medal.
Smith said his teammates had to get on the same page after some miscommunications with their set plays in attack killing off vital scoring chances.
“I think we are on the same page when coming out of our own end, we do that really well, but when we are up getting good ball [close to the try line] then we are a bit helter-skelter at times, not all the time,” Smith said.
“We are a side that plays to a lot of structure and if something goes outside that structure then we struggle a bit.
“That is where we need to improve - I think we just lose our heads a bit when something doesn’t go to what we’ve wanted to do.
“The effort was great tonight, defence was great, we just let ourselves down in a few small areas.
“We had enough opportunities to win the game but we couldn’t seal it.”
Storm coach Craig Bellamy said his side had put on one of their best defensive performances this season but in attack needed to be better.
“We made enough line breaks to win the game, Billy Slater got in the clear three times and we had a couple of other breaks too but we couldn’t finish it off,” Bellamy said.
“We can’t get on the same page at the moment, one week we have some guys playing good and others not so good then the next week it spins around a bit.
“We look a bit foreign to each other at times.”
Storm centre Justin O’Neill went down with a left ankle injury late in the first half with Bellamy saying the injury didn’t look good and O’Neill would have tests to find out if he had broken any bones, a diagnosis which would see him miss at least a month.
Warriors coach Andrew McFadden called his side’s win “courageous” and said his players held strong under pressure in the second half.
“We came here with nothing to lose, we went for it and they displayed some real effort tonight and it’s why we got away with a win,” McFadden said.
“It was just the result we needed to get our confidence back and certainly we are going to use it as a stepping stone to something better.”
A savvy delayed pass from Warriors half back Shaun Johnson set the table for winger David Fusitua to score the first try in the corner – right in front of a block of boisterous Warriors fans and a group of colourful “Where’s Wally” lookalikes.
The Warriors continued to probe and after Slater had a high ball ripped from his hands, the Warriors had their second try as Feleti Mateo scored under the posts with an simple conversion having the Warriors up 10-0 with 30 minutes gone.
After several failed attempts, the Storm were finally over the line with only minutes left in the first half with prop Kevin Proctor set-up by an inch-perfect Cronk pass as Cam Smith’s conversion made it 10-6.
Proctor is reportedly in the midst of a bidding war between several clubs and the Storm yet continues to impress despite the uncertainty.
A contention penalty against the Storm with just seconds left in the half allowed Johnson to take a penalty kick after the siren which he struck truly to make it 12-6 at the main break.
The Storm came out with all guns blazing in the second half and in the 44th minute had their second try when Ryan Hoffman and Tohu Harris did the hard-running with Harris off-loading to Young Tonumaipea for the try with Smith’s conversion drifting wide as Storm trailed 12-10.
Slater brought a huge roar from the crowd when looked to have the Storm in front on the hour but his out-stretched hand touched the ball down millimetres short of the line and his score was ruled out.
The Storm had dominated possession for so much of the second half yet the Warriors launched a surprise attack down the right sideline on 63 minutes with Fusitua and Johnson exchanging passes before the latter went over to make it 16-10 with 15 minutes to play.
A Johnson drop-goal attempt with only eight minutes left could have ended the contest but Hoffman charged it down.
The Storm went close in the final minute but Slater’s kick rolled into the end goal, ending the match.
The Anzac match in Melbourne sold out for the second-straight year and could even raise questions about whether the NRL and the Storm should move the game to Etihad Stadium next year and attempt to net a crowd beyond 40,000.
New Zealand Warriors 16 ( D Fusitua, F Mateo, S Johnson; S Johnson 2/4) d Melbourne Storm 10 (K Proctor, Y Tonumaipea; C Smith 1/2) at AAMI Park on Friday night. Crowd: 28,716.