Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy couldn’t be prouder of his battered NRL lineup.
The injury-hit Storm ground their way to a gutsy 15-14 win over North Queensland at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday.
With Billy Slater, Will Chambers and Jeremy Hawkins already sidelined, the Storm lost another outside back when Ben Hampton limped off in the first half against the Cowboys with a calf injury.
Despite that absence, the Storm overcame an early 8-0 deficit to secure their fourth straight win through Cameron Smith’s 70th-minute field goal.
“I can’t really remember a game where they played – I’m talking 14 years or 13 years, however long I’ve been here – but I can’t remember a time I’ve been more proud of a team than I am of these guys,” Bellamy said.
“We lost another one tonight in Ben Hampton … we’re really struggling in that position but the amount of effort these guys are putting in at training, it’s producing results for us on the field.”
The Cowboys, themselves on a five-game winning run, started brightly through Gavin Cooper’s early opener after Storm winger Sulasi Vunivalu dropped a Johnathan Thurston bomb.
A quickfire double to Storm pair Tohu Harris and Kevin Proctor put Bellamy’s men ahead going into the halftime break before Jake Granville’s clever pass to Michael Morgan helped level the scores and set up a grandstand finish.
Smith’s second career field goal put the Storm back in front and they then repelled the Cowboys’ attacks including a brilliant piece of goalline defence by Harris to deny North Queensland winger Antonio Winterstein.
Cowboys coach Paul Green said the week’s break for last weekend’s representative fixtures may have halted the premier’s momentum.
“Having the week off can be a good thing, sometimes it’s not,” Green said.
“I’m not sure which is the case tonight but we certainly weren’t as clinical as what we have been.
“Sometimes having that break, you kind of lose that momentum.”
The Cowboys will also have to assess a neck injury suffered to utility Rory Kostjasyn but prop Matt Scott has dismissed an early ankle knock as nothing to worry about.