William Botoulas, Melbourne Correspondent
It was another thriller at AAMI Park however this one ended with a different tale.
The Gold Coast Titans moved to the top of the NRL ladder and recorded just their second win in seven trips to Melbourne after defeating the Storm 28-26 in front of 11,930 fans.
A Greg Bird penalty kick from 32 metres in the final minute gave the Titans their third consecutive win. Ryan Hinchcliffe in his 150th NRL game conceded the controversial penalty, after being called for a stripped ball by referee Ben Cummins – much to the dismay of the Melbourne crowd.
It was a win the Titans thoroughly deserved though who controlled the game for much of the 80 minutes. Dave Taylor (178 metres) was pivotal for the visitors as was excitement machine Albert Kelly (130 metres, one try).
The Titans' kicking game took a significant blow prior to kickoff with Aidan Sezer (quad) replaced by Maurice Blair at five-eighth. On the contrary the Storm, its halves fit and firing, took just six minutes to show on the scoreboard.
Halfback Cooper Cronk caught the Titans’ defence napping out to the right with a perfectly waited kick to Sisa Waqa, who crossed for his fifth try of the season.
Watch the NRL LIVE with a 2-week free trial.
Get the NRL Digital Pass now!
However it was Titans right-winger Kevin Gordon with the instant reply, as he capped of a clinical cross-field play to dive past his counterpart to get the visitors on the board.
It was to be two in a minute for the visitors, thanks again to some Gordon brilliance.
The winger snatched an aerial ball from Slater in mid-air before offloading to Ashley Harrison. With the Storm defence in no man’s land, Brad Tighe capped off the play to hand the Titans an 8-6 advantage after two missed conversions.
It was a case of ‘anything you can do I can do better’ though as Waqa responded again for the home side in the 24th minute. In almost a carbon copy of the opening try, Cronk pinpointed the right-winger from centre field as Waqa burnt his direct opponent to gather, cross and along with the conversion restore the four-point lead.
It was a highly entertaining first half and the highlights kept coming 10 minutes before the break.
Anthony Don placed a clever check-side kick in front of the posts for David Mead, who flew from the heavens to steal the ball and the try. Bird notched the point-blank conversion and it was the Titans with a 14-12 lead at half-time.
Despite holding the lead the Titans had only themselves to blame for not being further in front, completing just 13 of 22 sets on the back of 6 first half errors.
Gold Coast resumed proceedings full of running and extended their lead just minutes from the restart. Young gun Albert Kelly picked off a Ben Hampton pass at the 40m to break away and give his side an eight-point lead.
The Storm was in desperate need of a spark and who else to provide it than its inspirational skipper. Cameron Smith played on from dummy half, broke the line, offloaded to Cronk who played a simple ball in for Kenny Bromwich to cross under the posts. With 30 minutes to play this game remained well in the balance as the Titans led 20-18.
But this was a Titans team determined to make the trip back home with nothing less than two points.
At 55 minutes their eight-point lead was restored as Mark Minichello broke the line 10 metres out, steamrolled Billy Slater and with the Bird conversion the Gold Coast looked likely for an upset win.
But Smith, Slater and Cronk – when in doubt just get the ball in their hands.
At the 60-minute mark that is exactly what the Storm did as the trio combined for a wonderfully rehearsed play for Will Chambers, who scored down the right touchline. Smith’s conversion had the margin back to just two-points.
The screws were then tightened by the home side, which for the next 10 minutes piled on the pressure with repeat sets of six.
The Titans line held firm but could only hold for so long before conceding a penalty in the 70th minute. Smith opted for the kick in front of the posts and it was all square at AAMI Park as the predominantly purple crowd began to find its voice.
Yet they were to be left disappointed as Bird made his crucial penalty kick at the death.
Gold Coast Titans 28 (Gordon, Tighe, Mead, Kelly, Minichiello tries; Bird 4 goals) def Melbourne Storm 26 (Waqa 2, K Bromwich, Chambers tries; Smith 5 goals) at AAMI Park. Crowd: 11,930.