5 THINGS WE LEARNED
COWBOYS VS. STORM
1 RESILIENCE TO BE SORELY TESTED
AS IF being without co- captains Johnathan Thurston ( right) and Matt Scott for the year wasn’t bad enough, the Cowboys look set to be without stand- in skipper Gavin Cooper and winger Antonio Winterstein for a stretch. Cooper succumbed to a calf injury in the first minute of the game, while Winterstein didn’t last much longer before the hamstring complaint which has hindered him all year flared up again. It forced hulking back rower Coen Hess to mark Queensland Origin star Will Chambers in the centres, and Melbourne had plenty of success exploiting that mismatch.
2 FINALS SPOT NOT SEALED YET
SOUTHS’ miraculous come- from- behind win over the Dragons gave the Cowboys a bit of welcome breathing space in the top eight race. Despite the loss to the Storm, they will still finish this round four points ahead of ninth after St George Illawarra’s late season slump continued in the early Friday match. With tough games ahead against Penrith ( away) and Cronulla ( home) the next two rounds the 2015 premiers will have to win at least one of those or their top eight hopes could be in some serious jeopardy. If not they could face a nervous and high stakes finish to the 2017 season.
3 VUNIVALU BREAKS RECORD
THERE’S been some great Fijian wingers to grace the NRL, kickstarted by Canberra Raiders premiership star Noa Nadruku in the nineties and former Broncos star and dual international Lote Tuqiri a little later down the line. But Storm youngster Suliasi Vunivalu ( right) may retire as the best yet to grace the competition. The 22- year- old scored his 39th and 40th tries in just his second season of first grade, the most in history by any player at this stage of their career. Given he will play outside Chambers for a few more years yet in a champion team, there’s no reason why he can’t continue his impressive scoring rate long term.
4 HESS THE CENTRE OF ATTENTION
HE’S 110kg and one of the most feared wrecking balls in the competition, but the Storm’s devastating right edge must have been licking their lips when the Cowboys’ injuries forced Hess to play at centre. Cooper Cronk made it a focus to give Chambers early ball at every opportunity and there was only going to be one winner in this contest. Hess must be the biggest centre seen in the NRL since Mal Meninga and after some early jitters the Maroons rookie did well to make the massive adjustment from playing in the middle of the park to trying to shut down Melbourne’s potent outside backs.
5 MILESTONE NIGHT FOR COOTE
COWBOYS custodian Lachlan Coote perhaps didn’t get the recognition he deserved this week after he notched up 150 NRL games against Melbourne. He certainly hasn’t had an easy road to the milestone, with the Cowboys fan favourite having battled some injury troubles at former club Penrith. He also suffered a season- ending knee injury at the 2014 Auckland Nines. He is one of the most important Cowboys players in attack without Thurston, and his sweeping plays off Michael Morgan have been very dangerous the past two weeks.