It was a tale of two halves and a tale of two halves pairings as Melbourne launched a remarkable fightback to overcome a 20-4 halftime deficit and claim a golden point thriller 23-22 at Brookvale Oval on Saturday night.
The result was the Storm's equal second-biggest comeback and Manly's second biggest capitulation – and worst surrender at Brookvale Oval.
- As it happened: Sea Eagles v Storm match blog
- One of the best comebacks: Cameron Smith
- We need to be better: Geoff Toovey
- Hampton plays down star turn
- Magic Moment: Watch Smith's winning field goal
- Watch: Melbourne Storm press conference
- Watch: Manly Sea Eagles press conference
The grandstand finish did not convey how completely unmatched both sides seemed either side of the halftime siren, with Manly's dominance of the first term completely reversed in the second 40 minutes.
A Brett Stewart-inspired Sea Eagles outfit cut a completely disorganised Storm side to ribbons in a 20-4 first half, but Stewart and Manly went from high performance vehicle to broken down bomb midway through the game.
Stewart left the field shortly before half-time with a hamstring strain and did not return, wrecking Manly's momentum, while a completely different Melbourne emerged from the sheds to launch an amazing comeback.
Their untried halves pairing of Ben Roberts and Ben Hampton were ineffective and disorganised before the break, and game breakers after it.
After forcing the game into extra-time at 22-all, Storm skipper Cameron Smith broke the deadline with a field goal to hand the visitors a stunning win.
Manly had opened the scoring in the fifth minute after quick hands from Kieran Foran and Stewart allowed Steve Matai to score in the corner, with Jamie Lyon narrowly missing the conversion.
The Foran-Matai-Stewart combination continued to cause the Storm headaches when the former pair combined to put Stewart through a gap for a 40-metre gallop, before Cherry-Evans took it to the right where a classical Lyon draw and pass sent Blair over unmarked in the corner, the skipper converting from touch to put Manly up 10-0.
Lyon and Daly Cherry-Evans continued to cause havoc down the right edge, forcing a goal-line drop out in the 18th minute. That brought the left edge back into the action when a short grubber from Stewart sat up nicely for a rampaging Justin Horo, although Lyon again missed from the left touchline, leaving the Sea Eagles up 14-0 just past the quarter-time mark.
That also triggered an opening of the heavens, which sent the Brookvale faithful scurrying for shelter. The bucketing rain put the handbrakes on the flashy football and noticeably upped the error rate, but Manly continued to have the better of it as Brett Stewart again sent Matai through a left-side gap and over to score, with Lyon this time adding the extras.
The Storm eventually got on the board eight minutes out from half-time when a Smith cross-field kick found a leaping Sisa Waqa, who out-leapt Peta Hiku to grab a sensational fingertip-mark and touch down inside the right corner post. When Smith's attempted conversion faded past the sticks it left the Storm 20-4 down and in need of half-time – which fortunately for them arrived without any further damage on the scoreboard.
With conditions drying out over the break, a rejuvenated (and, most likely, heavily chastened) Storm side came out and did what they needed to do – score first. With Stewart sidelined, an error from makeshift fullback Hiku close to Manly's line put the Storm on the attack and this time it was the other member of Melbourne's Big Three currently present, Billy Slater, who served up a try for Waqa by sending a great cutout pass past stand-in Sea Eagles winger Steve Matai and makeshift centre Justin Horo.
Ben Roberts then found his radar with the boot, with a quality grubber into the in-goal forcing a Manly drop-out before his new halves partner Ben Hampton discovered his running game. After taking a Smith pass a big right foot step allowed him to cut past Manly's big men and score next to the posts, closing the gap to 20-14.
The Storm were then piggy-backed up Manly's end and the boot of Ben Roberts again made them pay, when a bomb in front of the posts was collected by Hampton and fumbled backwards where it was collected by Kenny Bromwich who scored under the posts to bring Melbourne level.
From there the momentum was all with the Storm and a key moment came with 15 minutes left. Horo put a big hit on Hampton and was put on report, with Smith, having earlier missed one relatively simple penalty goal chance, this time made no mistake with a slightly more difficult attempt.
The Storm had the chance to kick further in front when Waqa sent Mahe Fonua into a gap down the right hand side but the centre's final pass to a supporting Hampton proved too tough for the pivot to hold on to and the chance went begging.
The Storm continued to dominate possession and field position but several attacking raids came up short as Manly scrambled to stay in touching distance. Their determination paid dividends when a Hampton high shot on Matt Ballin in front of the Storm's posts gave Lyon a chance to bring the scores level, setting up a grandstand finish as the scores drew level with five minutes to play.
Field goal attempts from Smith and Roberts were unsuccessful in a frantic final five minutes as the clock wound down, bringing up another golden point match-up between these two fierce rivals.
When a Hampton kick went out on the full Manly got an attacking opportunity but Blair was held up in the corner. After Melbourne marched upfield in the next set, Smith was finally successful with a field-goal attempt from 30 metres out to send a sodden Brookvale crowd home wet and disappointed.
Melbourne 23 (Waqa 2, Hampton, K Bromwich tries, Smith 3 goals, Smith field goal) def Manly 22 (Matai 2, Blair, Horo tries, Lyon 3 goals)