Melbourne's premiership defence could be on shaky ground after long-serving captain Cameron Smith was injured in Friday night's 20-4 home win over Parramatta.
The Storm consolidated their spot in the NRL top four with the hard-fought victory but coach Craig Bellamy has a potentially serious problem to deal with after his team was left reeling with injuries.
Smith was sandwiched in a legal tackle by Eels forwards Nathan Brown and Tepai Moeroa with 13 minutes remaining in the first half.
He winced in obvious pain, clutching at his lower back and ribs on his right side as he stayed hunched over on the ground with a Melbourne trainer.
Smith tried to stay on, kicking a penalty goal before succumbing to the injury a few minutes later and heading to the sideline. He played no further part in the round 23 Telstra Premiership clash.
Early reports suggest the injury isn't too bad, though Smith is likely to undergo scans.
Match: Storm v Eels
Round 23 -
Venue: AAMI Park
- Nine Network
- LIVE PASS
In more bad news for the Storm, winger Suliasi Vunivalu also did not return after halftime due to an injured hamstring and forwards Brandon Smith (knee) and Nelson-Asofa-Solomona (ankle) were also hurt.
Midway through the second half, without any available players on the bench, the Storm were reduced to 12 men on the field when Cameron Munster was sin-binned for a professional foul.
Smith leaves field with injury
However, Melbourne did enough to repel an Eels side that had to wait until the 77th minute to register their first points.
The Storm dominated the opening half, enjoying 75 percent of possession in the opening 20 minutes, and capitalised to score first in the eighth minute when a Billy Slater kick resulted in a Will Chambers try.
The Storm extended their lead 8-0 with a penalty goal right in front of the posts in the 19th minute and almost scored on the ensuing set but were ruled by the video referee to have knocked on in the lead up to the try.
The Eels answered back to force a number of repeat sets on the Storm's line and appeared to score in the 17th minute before they were denied by the video referee due to obstruction.
The home team carried the first-half momentum and earned a repeat set after the Eels failed to complete the goal line drop out within the allotted time. Smith extended the lead to 10-0 in what proved to be his final offering for the night.
Parramatta enjoyed a better share of possession in the second half, and despite the extra-man advantage, they couldn't find a way over the line.
The Storm had a match-winning lead in the 48th-minute when giant prop Nelson Asofa-Solomona barged his way over the line.
With Munster sin-binned in the 60th minute, Melbourne displayed steely defence to hold off the determined Eels and avoid a third-straight loss.
The Storm added another try when Munster returned to the field, as Curtis Scott crossed in the left corner, before the Eels finally crossed for a late consolation through Clint Gutherson.
The win places Melbourne at the top of the ladder with the Sydney Roosters to play the Canberra Raiders on Sunday afternoon.