Melbourne have taken a giant stride towards securing a NRL home semi-final after outclassing by 16-8 a North Queensland side minus Johnathan Thurston in Townsville.
Saturday night’s result has big ramifications for the top four, with the Storm opening up a six-point lead over the third-placed Cowboys after victory in front of 20,256 at 1300SMILES Stadium.
The Cowboys were gallant without inspirational skipper Thurston but lacked polish, especially in the Storm’s 20m zone, and their fifth-tackle options left a lot to be desired.
It was the Cowboys’ first home loss of the season and while North Queensland coach Paul Green won’t be reaching for the panic button, they could drop to fourth if Canberra beat South Sydney on Sunday.
The class of Storm halfback Cooper Cronk proved the difference as he set up two of his side’s three tries.
The bunker was called to adjudicate on all three of the Storm’s tries, and Green suggested during a halftime television interview there wasn’t enough evidence to confirm any of them.
After an Ethan Lowe penalty goal opened the scoring, Cronk put Kevin Proctor through a hole to make it 4-2 after nine minutes.
Marika Koroibete tiptoed down the touchline before making a flying put-down three minutes later and suddenly things were looking ominous for the home team.
But then Antonio Winterstein scored in the corner on the back of a superb Lachlan Coote flick-pass to reduce the deficit to two.
Storm prop Tim Glasby had been on the field barely a minute when he chased down a Cronk grubber and grounded it with his first touch.
The Storm went on to seal an important win following a scoreless second half.