After 350 NRL games giving his all for Melbourne, Cameron Smith’s teammates said their thumping win over Manly was payback.
The Storm players spoke early in the week about ensuring they delivered a fitting performance in Smith’s milestone gameand they delivered scoring seven tries to one in a 40-6 thumping at AAMI Park.
Storm captain Smith, as usual, was front and centre despite taking a pectoral injury into the game.
The 34-year-old topped his team’s tackle count and had four try assists.
“The players really put in a big effort for Cameron,” coach Craig Bellamy said.
“He’s really put in a whole heap of big efforts in his 350-game career so it was just a bit of payback and they did a great job.”
Smith, who joined Canterbury great Terry Lamb on 350 and now has Darren Lockyer’s record of 355 in sight by season’s end, said the milestone game was extra special.
“Running out was special and I took a moment there before kick-off just to soak up what I was achieving, but it’s hard to take in the milestone because my job’s to go out and play well today for my teammates and coaches,” Smith said.
The victory reaffirmed Melbourne’s status as raging title favourites, while the Sea Eagles cling to seventh spot after sitting third just a fortnight ago.
Cap drama not behind Manly’s fall: DCE
Manly captain Daly Cherry-Evans insists the NRL’s salary cap investigation can’t be blamed for his team’s form slump.
The loss was their second consecutive heavy defeat and they have now conceded 92 points in their last two games; their worst defensive fortnight since August 2004.
The defeats have coincided with the NRL launching an investigation into allegations of cap breaches at the club.
But when coach Trent Barrett admitted it hadn’t helped the team, Cherry-Evans interjected to say it wasn’t impacting on the players.
“As a player it certainly hasn’t,” Cherry-Evans said.
“Those things may be a big public distraction but internally it doesn’t stop you rocking up to training and doing your job.
“We’ve made a lot of errors the last two weeks. We’ve missed a lot of tackles the last two weeks. And now that we’ve addressed it we have to find a way to improve on that and improve quickly.”
The loss dropped Manly to seventh, just two points ahead of eighth and ninth-placed St George Illawarra and Penrith.
Meanwhile the win kept Melbourne two points clear of the Roosters at the top, as they all but sealed their 10th top-four finish in 12 seasons.
The Roosters are also two points clear of Cronulla, after both sides claimed wins over North Queensland and the Warriors respectively.
Parramatta also entered the race for the top four with their come-from-behind win over Brisbane on Friday night. They sit sixth, but are only behind the Broncos and Cowboys on for-and-against and with a much friendlier run home.
Lower down the ladder, the race for the finals was narrowed to 10 on Sunday as the Titans were beaten 26-4 by the Wests Tigers, ending their hopes.
The Dragons are also stumbling in eighth, shocked 21-14 by last-placed Newcastle on Saturday afternoon to put their finals spot in jeopardy.
It allowed Penrith to go equal on wins with them on 24 points, after they beat a hapless Canterbury on Thursday night.
Meanwhile, the Raiders are four points further back, their slim finals hopes kept alive with a victory over South Sydney.