A gritty 12-6 win over New Zealand Warriors helped Melbourne Storm move to the top of the NRL ladder on Sunday.
But Craig Bellamy’s side is in no mood to rest on its laurels, despite a seven-match winning streak through a State of Origin period that is traditionally difficult for the club.
Speaking after a hard-fought win at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland on Sunday, Storm captain Cameron Smith said his team had many areas in which to improve.
And the first thing it would look at? Winning easier.
“We haven’t really blown any teams off the park consistently,” Smith said in an ominous warning.
“That’s really where we need to sit down and get serious about our performances … and try to make it easier on ourselves for the remainder of the season.”
Storm’s best performance of the season came in a 50-10 thrashing of New Zealand on Anzac Day but this was a much closer affair.
Will Chambers ran 50 metres to score the game’s opening try in the third minute, capitalising on Jahrome Hughes’ no-look short ball and some sloppy Warriors defence to cross.
The Warriors came up with a quick response as David Fusitu’a set up Gerard Beale but Suliasi Vunivalu struck on the stroke of half-time to restore Melbourne’s advantage.
And that was the final try of a close encounter, with two second-half penalties from Smith helping Storm to victory.
The Warriors could perhaps count themselves unlucky, with Solomone Kata denied a try for a double movement, while the officiating seemed to go in favour of Melbourne.
Warriors coach Stephen Kearney said while his side were second best, the referees were not at their best – a common theme of the 2018 season.
“There were some moments that the officials didn’t get quite right,” he said.
Storm, like South Sydney and St George Illawarra, has 13 wins for the season, but a better points differential sees the Melbourne side sitting pretty on top of the competition.
Just one win behind the leading trio are the Sydney Roosters, who moved back inside the top four with a 56-24 thrashing of the Manly Sea Eagles at Brookvale Oval on Sunday.
The match was as good as over after just 24 minutes, the Roosters leading 28-0 thanks to the early brilliance of Latrell Mitchell, James Tedesco and Jake Friend.
The 10-tries-to-four victory showed just how much class the Roosters have going forward and Mitchell and Ferguson finished with doubles despite some belated Manly resistance.
Mitchell added eight conversions to his haul for the day in a result that saw the Roosters move above the Sharks.
On Saturday, South Sydney lost top spot – and a nine-match winning run – against a determined Wests Tigers outfit.
Ivan Cleary’s men won 22-6, a result that leaves them just two matches out of the top eight, in ninth position.
When asked if his team had found the sort of form that would help it make finals, Cleary said: “Absolutely. The challenge for us is to improve.”
Also on Saturday, St George Illawarra bounced back from consecutive defeats to the Tigers and Storm with a 24-10 win over North Queensland Cowboys in Townsville, while Newcastle Knights beat Gold Coast Titans 30-24.
Brisbane flexed its muscle on Friday evening, Wayne Bennett’s side thrashing an out-of-form Penrith side 50-18, while Cronulla made the most of another headline-making performance from the officials to edge Canberra 28-24.
The Sharks sit fifth, ahead of the Panthers and the Broncos, with the Warriors rounding out the eight.
At the other end of the table, Parramatta moved a step closer to getting off the bottom of the ladder with a 14-8 win over Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs.
Just points differential separates the Bulldogs (14th), the Cowboys (15th) and the last-placed Eels.