Cameron Smith became the highest point-scoring forward in the NRL but it was Cooper Cronk who shone brightest as Melbourne continued their stranglehold over Brisbane on Friday night.
Cronk scored a try and set up three others for the Storm in a top-shelf playmaking display to rack up a 30-8 victory at Suncorp Stadium – their seventh straight success over Brisbane.
The halfback’s performance prompted league great Darren Lockyer to claim Cronk’s broken arm in the State of Origin opener, forcing a six-week break, has been a blessing in disguise for Melbourne.
With six more games before the playoffs, the 30-year-old is fresh and at the top of his game to give Storm fans great hope of another premiership.
With the crucial win, Melbourne leapfrog Brisbane into sixth on the NRL table and in striking distance of a top-two shot.
Cronk compounded departing Broncos coach Anthony Griffin’s week of woe with his man-of-the-match performance while Smith broke Craig Fitzgibbon’s point-scoring record when he slotted his fourth conversion for 1605 points.
Through his right boot, Cronk set up the opening two tries for a 12-0 lead after 15 minutes.
He also threw the short ball for Ryan Hoffman to bust past Matt Gillett close to the line for his second try in the 52nd minute for a match-winning 18-4 lead.
Although Brisbane hit back through a freak try to Alex Glenn, Cronk then put the icing on the cake with a scintillating four-pointer of his own.
It was a disappointing second-half effort by the Broncos who had been motivated to produce their best in response to Griffin’s axing for Wayne Bennett’s imminent return next season.
It was one-way traffic in the opening 20 minutes as Melbourne enjoyed 85 per cent of possession.
As expected, the Storm targeted Ben Barba on Brisbane’s left-side defence but it was their right side which let the Broncos down as Cronk’s cross-kicks reaped tries to Marika Koroibete and Hoffman.
The 36,319-strong Brisbane crowd were up in arms over the video referee’s controversial decision to award the second, with Billy Slater taking Ben Hunt in the air but deemed to have been contesting the ball.
Bit by bit, the Broncos dragged themselves back into the match.
Barba’s confidence grew in both defence and attack and he ultimately sparked the fightback with a floating cut-out pass for Dale Copley to score.
But in the second half, they fell away badly.
Griffin said his side paid most for their sloppy start, and also rued the “50-50” decision for Hoffman’s first try.
“We killed ourselves,” he said. “We lost all our composure with the ball.”
Brisbane skipper Corey Parker denied the emotion of the week had an adverse affect on the team.
“It was a different week but that had nothing to do with the way we started and the way it panned out,” Parker said.
“We were up against a quality outfit tonight.”
Storm coach Craig Bellamy paid tribute to Cronk as the ultimate professional but also felt his side’s weight of possession early sapped Brisbane’s energy.
“The start of the game took a bit out of them with the amount of ball we had,” he said.
“If we didn’t have as much possession at the start of the game they might have been more dangerous but it took a lot of gas out of them.
“Our performance was really good. I was really happy defensively and with the ball we are getting a bit better each week.”
Smith was modest about his record mark as the highest-scoring forward, which now sits at 1607 points.
“Individual accolades are nice to have but they come on the back of team success,” he said.
“If I could score some tries that would be great, and I would have gone past it a while ago if I had.”