William Botoulas, Melbourne Correspondent, NRL.com
It is three straight wins to start the season for Melbourne Storm as they accounted for Newcastle 28-20 in Monday night football at AAMI Park.
After two straight weeks of nail-biting drama, the final 10 minutes could this week be savoured rather than feared by Storm fans.
As usual the Big Three were at their creative best, however it was the wingers that proved to be the Storm’s most damaging threat.
Sisa Waqa and Young Tonumaipea combined for 257 metres and a try apiece in a dominant performance out wide.
For the third straight week the winless Knights lost the possession count (55 to 45 per cent) and along with 14 penalties against, repeated sets of six were all too apparent throughout the 80 minutes.
The Storm burst out of the blocks early, heaping pressure on the visitors right from the outset.
It was captain Cameron Smith who had points on the board first, courtesy of a penalty kick after a third Knights infringement in as many minutes.
The game had its first try of the night through the visitors though when Michael Dobson’s kick came off the right upright and fell into the hands of Jeremy Smith. A successful Kurt Gidley conversion handed Newcastle a four-point lead after six minutes.
In the 15th minute newly re-signed Storm forward Jesse Bromwich caught the ire of referee Gerard Sutton after a dangerous tackle on Robbie Rochow.
The penalty kick to follow had the Knights 8-2 up after 20 minutes and with a sniff of their first win of the season.
On the contrary the home crowd were in desperate need to get on their feet and in the 23rd minute Sisa Waqa answered their call.
A strong Mahe Fonua tackle on Leilua at halfway saw the ball spill to the exciting winger who skipped passed McManus on the left wing to score his most scintillating try of the season.
The play seemed to break the dam wall as a further two tries would follow from Craig Bellamy’s men.
Three straight sets of six was enough to see the Knights’ defence was breached for the second time in the match.
Kevin Proctor broke the line courtesy of a clinical Cooper Cronk pass, stepped inside of opposing fullback Matt Minto and sent the Storms fans into raptures.
Their third came from a play across field into the hands of Will Chambers who bulldozed his opposing number in Gagai to cross the line for the first time this season.
Smith missed the conversion though the writing was well and truly on the wall half an hour in, with the Victorian side holding an 18-8 advantage.
A first half of highlights ended on a worrying note when the stretcher was called two minutes before the break.
Knights forward Alex McKinnon left the field and was taken to hospital after a three-man spear tackle involving Jordan McLean and Jesse and Kenny Bromwich saw the 22-year old land awkwardly on his neck. The tackle was put on report after medical staff spent an extended period treating the young back-rower on the field.
A successful Tyrone Roberts kick off the ensuing penalty saw the Knights cut the deficit back to eight points at half-time.
The halftime stats told the story of the Storm’s dominance on the wings. Waqa and Young Tonumaipea had a combined 190 metres to half-time, compared to just 51 metres from their counterparts.
It took just four minutes after the restart for the Storm wingers to again take effect.
This time it was Tonumaipea – just the second Victorian born player to represent the Storm – who scored for his first try of his career through a superb Cooper Cronk kick.
Using Akuila Uate as a spring board, Tonumaipea caught the ball with a proverbial ‘speccy’, landed like a cat and suddenly a fourteen-point lead left Wayne Bennett’s side with it all to do in the second half.
That moment seemed to strike a cord with Uate who then took it upon himself to drag his side back into the contest.
Outstanding vision by the boot of Tyrone Roberts set up Uate who crossed the line for his first of the night.
Then minutes later the winger would cause a penalty, and then have his second courtesy of a Gagai offload. Suddenly the visitors were within four-points with 20 minutes to play.
At the 65th minute as scuffle broke out 30m out from the Knights goal, signinalling a rise in intensity as the tension began to build around AAMI Park.
Cometh the moment, cometh the man.
In need of some individual brilliance the home side needed to turn to no other than their skipper Cameron Smith.
An opportunistic run from dummy half five metres from the line saw him find the line. His missed conversion left his side 28-20 in front with 12 minutes to play.
A costly knock-on by Matt Minto in the 74th minute all but sealed the visitors fate.
The Knights take on the also-winless Sharks next week, while the Storm travel to Perth to face the Bulldogs.
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