The Melbourne Storm remain undefeated in 2019, after skipper Cameron Smith capped a remarkable feat by becoming the greatest NRL pointscorer of all time in their gritty 18-12 victory over the North Queensland Cowboys in Townsville tonight.
Australian skipper Smith surpassed former Bulldogs great Hazem El Masri's longstanding record of 2,418 points in a remarkable moment in the code's history. Smith collected the kicking tee from his daughter and was applauded by teammates and the opposition after he tied the scores at 8 all in the 49th minute.
The Storm were again far from perfect in victory, and for the second week in a row they can again count themselves lucky that they were able to escape with the two competition points despite another poor completion rate from Craig Bellamy's men.
The loss for the Cowboys was further soured by a suspected broken leg to winger Nene MacDonald, after the offseason Dragons recruit collided with teammate John Asiata in attempting to contest a towering bomb late in the second half. There is sure to be an investigation by the NRL on player safety, after the officials failed to recognise MacDonald's horrific injury and play continued until a penalty was awarded to the Storm for a late tackle on the kicker by Cowboys reserve hooker Kurt Baptiste on Storm five-eighth Cameron Munster minutes later.
In further headaches for the home side, representative forward Josh McGuire could find himself in hot water for a suspected eye gouge on Maroons teammate Cameron Munster early in the first half. Munster clearly was upset with the attention in the play the ball, but refused to make an official complaint when approached by officials. Replays though suggest that McGuire may have a case to answer mid-week.
It was a comedy of errors early, with both sides making a whopping five handling errors in the first 10 minutes. It was the Cowboys however who struck first, when Michael Morgan kicked across field for Gavin Cooper, who batted the ball back, which deflected off Storm centre Marion Seve. Cowboys fullback Te Maire Martin was on the spot however to score the first try of the night. The handling errors then continued, particularly from the Storm with winger Sandor Earl, who made an unhappy return from his drug ban back in 2013, losing the ball three times in the first half.
Cowboys star Morgan then kicked a 40/20 for the home side to put Melbourne under more pressure. The Storm then gave away a penalty from in front, when backrower Felise Kaufusi was pinged for not getting back the 10m. Jordan Kahu took the gift two points on offer to extend the Cowboys lead to eight points as halftime neared.
Despite only completing at 50% in the first half, the Storm then were given a golden chance with a minute remaining in the half when Cowboys stalwart Gavin Cooper lost the ball just inside his own half. The Storm traditionally don't waste opportunities and Cameron Munster validated this, when he hit his outside man Will Chambers, who ran a terrific line to score under the posts. Skipper Cameron Smith then equaled the all time NRL pointscoring record and in the process narrowed the halftime lead for the Cowboys to 8-6 as they headed into the sheds.
NRL history was then finally made after the break, when the Storm were awarded a penalty right in front of the posts. Storm skipper Smith hesitated for a moment and pointed to the posts. The Australian captain then fittingly received the tee from his daughter and nailed the conversion to surpass the great Hazem El Masri to become the greatest pointscorer in NRL history and even the score in the process.
Storm fullback Jahrome Hughes then broke the game open, when the former Cowboy made a dart out of dummy half on halfway and sliced through. Looking for support, he spotted speedy winger Josh Addo-Carr and kicked ahead and the man they call ‘the Fox' got to the ball first to extend the lead to 12-8, after Smith failed to convert. The Cowboys however didn't yield and hit back almost straight away, when centre Jordan Kahu received the ball early at the line from Morgan. Kahu then threw a terrific (albeit slightly forward)no look flick pass to find his winger Ben Hampton to score in the corner and keep the home side in the match at 16-12 with six minutes remaining.
Chaos then ensued when Cowboys teammates John Asiata and Nene MacDonald collided when attempting to contest a bomb from Jake Clifford. Both players immediately hit the deck but the officials ruled play on. A penalty against Cowboys bench hooker Kurt Baptiste for tackling Munster after kicking finally bought play to a halt. MacDonald was stretchered from the field with a suspected broken leg. Melbourne skipper Cameron Smith then iced the game with the controversial penalty, making it 18-12 at fulltime to cap off another victory where the Storm haven't been at their best but still managed to escape with a valuable two points.
Melbourne now keep their undefeated stretch to five games and now face last season's conquerors, the Sydney Roosters in a Grand Final re-match in what promises to be an absolute blockbuster at AAMI Park on Good Friday.
North Queensland are now under severe pressure from next week, with a trip over the Tasman on Saturday to face the New Zealand Warriors, in what is now a must win match for Paul Green's side.