THE advertising hoardings at AAMI Park claimed Brisbane and England centre Jack Reed as some of the best scrambling defence of the NRL season helped premiers Melbourne snap a two match losing streak.
Reed slid into signage on the eastern side early in Melbourne’s 32-0 victory and after playing on for around 15 minutes was replaced with a collarbone injury. While there was not believed to be a fracture, Reed was unable to resume and will undergo scans over the weekend.
It was reminiscent of an incident a decade ago at neighbouring Olympic Park, when Storm and Papau New Guinea winger Marcus Bai suffered a serious arm injury when he collided with a sign.
Brisbane could scarcely afford to lose a player of Reed’s calibre last night. Their winger Lachlan Maranta must have felt like he would never score another try by fulltime.
He was denied certain touchdowns by heroic defence from Brett Finch, then Sisa Waqa and finally Billy Slater. In normal circumstances, all three would have been tries.
Melbourne led 12-0 at the end of a first half in which Brisbane were repeatedly stymied by a combination of either poor options or heroic Storm defence.
The portents were not good for Brisbane early when Melbourne prop Jesse Bromwich rumbled right through the middle of the defence from near halfway after Cameron Smith darted out of dummy-half.
Bromwich came to Broncos fullback Corey Norman and stepped him comprehensively before taking another defender over the line with him. Captain Smith’s conversion made it 6-0.
But Craig Bellamy’s side was soon on the back foot, with only dogged defence – most notably from five-eighth Brett Finch – keeping their opponents at bay.
In the 11th minute, winger Josh Hoffman got a hand to five-eighth Scott Prince’s kick to the south-easter corner but was unable to field the ball cleanly.
Melbourne even fumbled deep in their own territory early in the tackle count, an uncharacteristic gaffe for which the Broncos were unable to punish them.
But when the world champions got into the opposition red zone, they still executed with ruthless efficiency. Cooper Cronk’s kick was fielded by winger Justin O’Neill in the 13th minute and he dotted down out wide.
From three metres in from the touch line, hooker Smith – back from an Origin eye injury – converted for a 12-0 lead.
It was then down to some magnificent scrambling defence from the home side to keep Brisbane scoreless until the break.
Justin Hodges roared into the clear at 29 minutes after taking an intercept and thought it wise to offload to Lachlan Maranta.
But Melbourne winger Sisa Waqa somehow managed to reel in Maranta and wrestle him to ground 10 metres out. The rest of the Storm defenders rushed back into position and denied the Broncos on subsequent tackles.
Earlier, Maranta had been denied from close range by the terrier-like Finch, when he seemed certain to score.
And right on the break, Hodges held off defenders, feigned this way and that and managed to give back rower Matt Gillett a clear passage to the line.
Gillett lowered his centre of gravity and launched himself – but fumbled just short of the stripe and was denied by video referees Justin Morgan and Jason Robinson.
Reed’s injury continues England coach Steve McNamara’s run of his players being injured while he is in the country.
Melbourne centre Maurice Blair was denied a try just after the break, when the video referees ruled he had knocked on after a round-the-corner pass from Slater.
But after Slater miraculously held Maranta up over the line, the Storm went 100 metres for Ryan Hinchclffe to score near the posts.
Waqa was rewarded for his toil by his fourth try of the year in the 65th minute, with Smith’s conversion missing. Then Blair underscored his side’s superiority with a late double.
MELBOURNE 32 (M Blair 2 J Bromwich R Hinchcliffe J O’Neill S Waqa tries C Smith 4 goals) bt BRISBANE 0 at AAMI Park. Referees: G Sutton/L Phillips. Crowd: 16,828.
Filed for: THE AGE