Goal-kicking proved the difference between the teams back in Round 15 when the Storm secured a 26-22 win in a pulsating, high-quality encounter at Brookvale Oval.
Despite missing Billy Slater to injury Melbourne shot out of the blocks to lead 12-nil inside the midpoint of the first stanza. Todd Lowrie finished off an 80-metre team raid to post first points with just seven minutes on the clock, before skipper Cameron Smith dummied his way over from first receiver in the 15th minute – a simple play that left Manly’s Anthony Watmough with egg on his face after the second-rower rushed up too quickly off his goal line.
That spurred the home side into action, with three tries inside 10 minutes catapulting them to an 18-12 lead on the stroke of halftime.
Daly Cherry-Evans’ opening try in the 28th minute had a lashing of irony to it; it started with hooker Matt Ballin passing to Kieran Foran who found Brett Stewart with a snappy inside pass that replicated Melbourne’s ultra-successful ploy so often triggered by Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater.
Stewart scored himself minutes later, winning the race to Jamie Lyon’s grubber kick behind the Storm defenders from a scrum 30 metres out, and when Jorge Taufua powered over the home side found themselves with a six-point advantage at the break.
The Storm hit back after halftime, with tries to Bryan Norrie and Matt Duffie handing them a 24-18 lead with 21 minutes remaining, before a Cameron Smith penalty goal following a Jamie Lyon foul edged them eight points clear with seven minutes left to play.
Manly had the best of the late exchanges, with winger Dean Whare crossing on the left edge seconds from fulltime.
The statistics sheets showed Manly were a little unlucky not to have won – they made six line-breaks to Melbourne’s two, clawed out almost 220 more metres in territory on the night, missed six fewer tackles and made four more offloads.
Also, Manly completed their sets in possession at an excellent 86 per cent, which was marginally better than the Storm’s 84 per cent. Both sides made just six errors.
Prop Jessie Bromwich was a solid contributor for the Storm with 15 hit-ups and three offloads, while centre Justin O’Neill made 115 metres, five tackle busts and a line-break.
Manly, who lost Glenn Stewart to a knee injury shortly before halftime, were best served by powerhouse winger Jorge Taufua who made three line-breaks and racked up 230 metres.