Storm count injury cost in Roosters loss
Minor premiers Melbourne rested their big guns but still lost three to worrying injuries as they crashed 40-8 to the Sydney Roosters in the NRL’s last regular season game of the year.
With first place in the bag when Brisbane beat Manly earlier on Sunday, the Storm withdrew Test stars Billy Slater and Cameron Smith before kick-off at the Sydney Football Stadium, along with props Jesse Bromwich and Bryan Norrie.
It didn’t take long to see why with replacement prop Jaiman Lowe and centre Maurice Blair suffering first half injuries before five-eighth Gareth Widdop went down in the second 40 minutes.
Lowe suffered a suspected grade one medial ligament tear in his right knee and will have scans on Monday, Blair has a hamstring injury and Widdop an ankle ligament problem.
The toll is a major worry for the Storm a week out from their qualifying final against Newcastle at AAMI Park, although halfback Cooper Cronk made it through the game after two weeks out with a foot injury.
Melbourne were already without Adam Blair, Sika Manu and Sisa Waqa, who were suspended after last week’s brawl in the loss to Manly, and have lost two straight heading into the play-offs.
Roosters winger Joseph Leilua bagged a hat-trick but was also injured, suffering a severe hip cork with his amazing airborne putdown for his third try in the 48th minute.
As well as Leilua, Anthony Minichiello, Aidan Guerra, Justin Carney and Mitchell Pearce scored tries for the Roosters, with Braith Anasta booting six from seven as his side finished the season the season with a fourth straight win.
For the depleted Storm, Matt Duffie and Beau Champion bagged four-pointers.
Punters jumped on the Roosters at the news of the team changes and Brian Smith’s side responded with four first half tries to one in a physical display.
Leilua got the first of his double in just the sixth minute when he dived on an Anasta kick that had bounced wickedly in the in-goal.
Minichiello finished some hot-potato work seven minutes later and it was 12-0.
The Storm scored against the run of play when Matt Duffie swooped on a Roosters offload gone wrong and ran 80m to touch down in the 19th minute to make it 12-4.
Tries late in the half to Aidan Guerra and Leilua ensured the Roosters’ ascendancy and they made it 28-4 when Leilua got his third.
Champion pounced on a Cooper Cronk grubber four minutes later for 28-8 before Anasta played AFL ruckman to bat back a Phil Graham kick and Carney scored in the 68th and Pearce crossed with four minutes left.
God, I hope all these injuries don’t end up giving Newcastle a sniff next week!