After a Cooper Cronk bomb was batted back by Will Chambers, winger Sisa Waqa played a looping ball to centre field at the 20-metre line to Tohu Harris, who linked with Cronk, who went to Ryan Hoffman, whose final pass saw Tonumaipea dive across for the line for one of the most stunning finishes to an NRL game you could ever hope to see.
Trailing 24-10 with 13 minutes left on the clock, this was a game Craig Bellamy’s men had no right to win but they were ultimately the ones grinning as the drama settled, with Chambers scoring his second try and Cronk also crossing.
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The Dragons will be left to rue the one that well and truly got away and their third consecutive defeat will no doubt leave them scratching their heads the entire way home.
They made much of the play throughout the first 67 minutes and came out breathing fire right from the outset.
Two penalties and an error in the first five minutes for the home side had their much spoken about defence under pressure early. And within six minutes it failed that early test.
It would be none other than Storm’s former half Gareth Widdop to set up a clever move down the left. As Jason Nightingale looked to be heading out of play, his clever flick in-board to Dylan Farrell had the first try of the game and the visitors well on their way.
It was a nervous opening 10 minutes by Melbourne that included three penalties, five missed tackles and just 34 per cent of possession.
However what better way to settle into the match than via the golden boot of Cronk, who went on to be man of the match.
In the 16th minute the star halfback played a high ball five metres from the line. Hoffman flicked a clever ball backwards to a waiting Tonumaipea, who played the easiest of passes to a waiting Jesse Bromwich for the home side’s opener.
Cameron Smith made sure of the conversion and for all of the Dragons early dominance they had just a two-point deficit to show for it.
At the half-hour mark it would be a repeat set of six by the Storm that would put them further ahead.
Billy Slater’s grubber kick to the left corner post looked to be covered comfortably by Josh Dugan. However as the Dragons fullback went to ground to collect the ball Chambers swooped in, snatched it out of Dugan’s hands and in the blink of an eye had stolen four points and his fourth try of the season.
However, scores were levelled courtesy of an uncharacteristic Billy Slater error.
Widdop’s highball dropped to Slater 20 metres out but the star fullback fumbled under little pressure. The ball fell the way of the Dragons and with the Storm defense virtually non-existent Brett Morris crossed for his fifth try of the year.
It seemed a deadlock would be a suitable score line after a tightly contested first half but with seconds to play Chambers was placed on report for a high shoulder charge on Dugan. Widdop converted the 30-metre penalty kick at it was the visitors who enjoyed a 12-10 halftime score line.
Dugan had a first half to forget but it was his brilliant 30-metre run five minutes after the restart that would have the Dragons further ahead.
The run opened up Melbourne down the right sideline and after the ball spun to the left on the next play Gerard Beale capitalised on the scoreboard.
Widdop would again convert amidst a chorus of boos from the same fans that had once cheered him as he gave his side a handy eight-point buffer.
That buffer would become a significant margin after 53 minutes as another Storm fumble off a Widdop kick, this time by Waqa, spilled the ball to Trent Merrin who steamrolled under the posts.
The conversion had the scoreboard reading 24-10 in favour of the Dragons as the anxiety around AAMI Park began to rise.
With 13 minutes to play Will Chambers crossed after a deft Cronk pass, to give the majority of the 13,130 crowd some hope of a revival. That hope turned into a revival just three minutes later.
Ben Roberts, who had been quiet in his return to first-grade since Round 1, sidestepped, danced and broke the Dragons’ line, rounded Dugan with a flick to Cronk and suddenly the margin was back to two-points.
‘Melbourne, Melbourne, Melbourne’ was the chant from the rejuvenated crowd and you could feel a drama filled finale was about to get even more pulsating.
Tonumaipea rose to the occasion as the 21-year-old finished off a play that was calamitous, ridiculous, and stupendous but in the end victorious.
The Storm will travel to Canberra to take on the Raiders next Sunday while the Dragons will host the Warriors on Saturday night.Melbourne Storm 28
(Chambers 2, Bromwich, Cronk, Tonumaipea tries; Smith 4 goals) def St George Illawarra Dragons 24
(Farrell, Morris, Beale, Merrin tries; Widdop 4 goals). Crowd: