Police to probe social distancing at Storm game
Melbourne is set to be without skipper Cameron Smith for at least a week with a shoulder injury following their 26-16 win over Newcastle - in a game which sparked online criticism.
The NRL and spectators at Sunshine Coast Stadium came under fire for a lack of social distancing on the eastern side hill.
However, it's understood five Queensland Health officials were on site monitoring the COVID compliance and no concerns were raised with the venue manager.
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Melbourne were expected to address the concerns in the aftermath of the match.
Even without Smith, the Storm showed they are a force to be reckoned with in 2020.
It was a gritty win and nothing to the extent of their previous two matches scoring 40+ points, but Melbourne dominated the injury-hit Knights.
Rampaging young forward Tino Fa'asuamaleaui was a standout for Melbourne and was one of the best on ground on Sunday, finishing the match with one try, 185 running metres and a game-high six tackle busts.
The Knights' 31 missed tackles to Melbourne's 16 proved too costly for the visiting side.
It was Melbourne's sixth straight win and solidified them in second spot on the NRL ladder.
SOCIAL DISTANCING CRITICISM
Queensland Health authorities were monitoring social distancing guidelines at Sunshine Coast Stadium while an image stirred up plenty of criticism online.
A photo of the eastern-side hill, which was packed with spectators, was circulated on social media and criticised for the lack of space between fans.
However, it is understood no official concern was raised with the venue manager.
The eastern hill's usual capacity is 6500 people and only 2830 fans (a 43.5 per cent capacity) were seated there on Sunday afternoon.
It's understood last week's game at Sunshine Coast Stadium copped similar flack which resulted in only 5000 tickets being allocated for Sunday's game, however even that will now come under review.
The scenes came just hours after Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Chief Health Office Jeannette Young implored people to socially distance as health officials respond to a cluster south of Brisbane.
Ms Palaszczuk warned against complacency as she said the next week was vital in terms of Queensland's response.
Very much looking forward to going back into lockdown in Queensland in two weeks when this “social distancing” comes back to bite us all. What’s doing there? #nrlstormknights #SocialDistancing 🤔 pic.twitter.com/IGMvU4blBj— Ed Jackson (@edjacko) August 2, 2020
Dr Young said social distancing was one of the most important measures in the state's fight against COVID-19, labelling it far more important than wearing masks.
"It's far, far more important to maintain that social distancing," she said
"I strongly encourage people to stay 1.5 metres away from other people as much as possible, wash your hands with soap and water or hand sanitiser often, and leave a location if it is crowded.
"If people aren't doing the social distancing, if you're going into a shopping centre or if you're going into a supermarket, leave. Come back at another time."
Queensland police said they would be contacting management about the "numbers and social-distancing practices" seen at the game.
"QPS will be following up with the management of Sunshine Coast Stadium and Queensland Health in relation to attendance numbers and social-distancing practices of the crowd at today's Melbourne Storm and Newcastle Knights game to ensure compliance with the Chief Health Officers directives," a spokesman said.
Others watching from the safety of their home have taken to social media, criticising the non-compliance of those who are attending the Round 12 game.
"It looks awesome but how come they can pack out the ground but Suncorp is only 20 per cent capacity?" a fan questioned on a Twitter thread about the game.
"Good to see social distancing on the hill," another commented.
The Storm are set to be without their inspirational leader for up to a fortnight.
The 37-year-old left the field in the 25th minute clutching at his shoulder and did not return for the rest of the game.
Club doctors confirmed the Melbourne veteran suffered a low-grade AC joint injury which could see Smith sidelined for one to two weeks.
CASUALTY WARD: Latest on Cameron Smith's injury
Cameron Smith won’t be back today with a minor AC joint (tip of shoulder) sprain. Mostly pain tolerance issue, can see players play through low grade AC joint injuries w pain relief/padding (minimal risk long term detriment). Unlikely to be extended absence (return in 1-2weeks)— NRL PHYSIO (@nrlphysio) August 2, 2020
SMITH'S LAST RECORD
Smith has taken one step closer to breaking another milestone and this one is personal.
The Melbourne skipper's 25th minute try on Sunday saw him draw level with his long-time mentor and Storm coach Craig Bellamy for NRL career tries.
Both now sit on 46 NRL tries and it has become a personal goal of Smith's to have one over his coach.
The Knights can't seem to find a way to beat Melbourne who now boast nine straight games against the boys from the Hunter.
Not since 2016 have the Knights manufactured a win against the Storm.
STORM FACE TOUGHEST DECISION IN GAME
Storm joint vice-captain Dale Finucane has cast some doubt over the "long term" future of emerging hookers Brandon Smith and Harry Grant at Melbourne.
With Grant and Smith vying for Cameron Smith's position, should he actually vacate the hooker role at the end of the season, Storm has its work cut out to retain two of the NRL's most exciting talents.
Loaned Wests Tigers rake Grant, who along with captain Smith remains at the top of the Dally M rankings, will return to Melbourne at seasons' end with a view to start in the No. 9 jersey next year.
Kiwi international and Storm spirit animal Smith is just as damaging in the specialty position.
NSW Origin and premiership star Finucane, widely touted as a future Storm captain, along with vice-captain and prop Jesse Bromwich, said it could be hard to keep both Grant and Smith.
"It's not something that has been spoken about at all … with our playing group or the coaches that I'm aware of," Finucane said of the potential 2021 issue.
"Obviously we'd love to have all of them play at the club but there's only one hooker role and I'm not even 100 per cent sure what Brandon's preferred position is.
"Whether he does want to play as a starter in the middle or whether he wants to play nine (hooker), I'd love to have everyone here but probably wouldn't be the case long term."
Storm loaned Grant to the Tigers to get game-time into the Rockhampton junior but also to avoid the Smith-Smith-Grant conundrum.
The 22 year-old Grant has made the most of the exchange, winning over fans league-wide with dazzling runs and silken passes.
"Being behind Cameron … it's a big ask to fill those shoes," Finucane said.
"To go away to the Tigers, and I think he was leading the Dally M when it went behind closed doors, it just goes to show the calibre of player he is and how competitive he is away from the Storm."
Privately Storm has modelled a structure to squeeze all three in the starting line-up, with Grant at hooker, Smith going from the bench to lock, Finucane in the front row and the captain at halfback.
"That could be done as well," Finucane said, of a potential to move to the front row.
"There's not too much difference between front row and lock in terms of the role, particularly in our team, beside the position that we stand in at the kick-off.
"It wouldn't bother me too much about where I played in the middle."
Finucane has had a cortisone shot since the Broncos bashing last Friday night after a scan confirmed a hot spot in his neck.
The 28 year-old Finucane has played with the neck complaint since the competition restart.
"Just something that lingered around," Finucane said.
"Nothing too serious, just had a look at some scans and quick cortisone jab because we had a longer (nine-day) turnaround so a good opportunity to do that this week."
- Gilbert Gardiner
Originally published as Smith injured as social distancing Storm hits