MELBOURNE'S dominance of Newcastle continued on Sunday when they racked up their ninth consecutive win against the Knights - despite losing skipper Cameron Smith to a first-half injury.
Smith was replaced after scoring a try in the 25th minute of his team's 26-16 victory at Sunshine Coast Stadium with a shoulder problem that is expected to sideline him for two to three weeks.
Newcastle had injury dramas of their own, when back-rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon and hooker Chris Randall suffered a 33rd-minute head clash and did not return after concussion assessments.
Teenage centre Bradman Best also spent most of the second half hobbling with an ankle injury, while bench prop Pasami Saulo could be in strife with the judiciary after a reckless charge-down attempt on Jahrome Hughes that earned him 10 minutes in the sin-bin.
With seven players already unavailable, Knights coach Adam O'Brien said he "couldn't be more proud" of his team's performance, which was a marked improvement on their 18-12 loss to last-placed Canterbury the previous week.
"They [Melbourne] give plenty of teams lessons," O'Brien said.
"We got some last time we played them and we got some more tonight. But I thought we matched them for toughness and grit and heart ... we can take some solace in that. I'd like to think that they thought we gave them a game of footy tonight."
Newcastle's last victory against the Storm was in 2015, and Melbourne have won 17 of the past 20 clashes between the two clubs.
The result lifted Melbourne to second on the NRL ladder, a point behind Penrith, while Newcastle have slipped to seventh after their first back-to-back defeats of the season.
If the Knights lose at home to Wests Tigers on Saturday, they could drop out of the top eight for the first time this year.
O'Brien might have to manufacture a stopgap hooker if Randall is unable to pass concussion protocols this week.
The 24-year-old was promoted for his second NRL game after season-ending injuries to Jayden Brailey (knee), Andrew McCullough (hamstring) and Connor Watson (Achilles).
He was replaced by another second-game rookie, Phoenix Crossland, who is better known as a half or five-eighth.
Crossland certainly didn't let anyone down, making 26 tackles in 45 minutes, but it would be a big ask for him to start at dummy-half against the Tigers.
If Randall is ruled out, Crossland might be O'Brien's only option.
Melbourne opened the scoring in the fourth minute when they attacked Newcastle on the blind side and created an overlap for winger Suliasi Vunivalu, who crossed for his 10th try in eight games against the Knights.
Newcastle hit back three minutes later when Best beat two tackles with left-foot steps to score a fine solo try, his seventh of the season.
The Storm regained the lead in the 25th minute when Smith backed up to score - despite a suspect final pass - and increased their advantage with a 90-metre Ryan Papenhuyzen try.
Newcastle gave themselves a glimmer of hope in the 63rd minute when Aidan Guerra crashed over after a Kalyn Ponga short ball.
But the Storm reasserted their authority in the 67th minute when giant forward Tino Faasuamaleaui burst through three tackles to score a bulldozing try.
Winger Enari Tuala scored in the 75th minute from a Kurt Mann grubber kick but the Knights were still 10 points in arrears.
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