Storm down Broncos to secure finals berth
It was every bit the tension-filled, finals-like spectacle it promised to be.
Despite temporarily losing captain Cameron Smith through injury, the Storm ran out 22-12 victors in a thrilling game of rugby league at AAMI Park on Friday night.
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WATCH: Fonua's intercept try to seal the game
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WATCH: Storm press conference
WATCH: Broncos press conference
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Match stats, scores, highlights
The result assures Melbourne of a finals spot, with the side moving into the top four for now, while Brisbane now rely on defeats to the Warriors and Eels in what is sure to be a nervous weekend at Red Hill.
With 15 minutes to play scores were level and the game there to be taken, and Melbourne’s Mahe Fonua seized the opportunity.
The centre, born and bred in Victoria, scored off a sky-high Cooper Cronk kick and then made a dramatic intercept off a Ben Hunt pass to send the Storm through to yet another finals series.
They will be left to sweat on the fitness of skipper Smith however, who left the field 10 minutes before halftime with an ankle complaint. Smith would emerge to help his side to the win but his injury will be monitored during the week.
The Broncos left AAMI Park empty handed but not for a lack of trying. The visitors had more possession, metres and completed sets but fell agonisingly short.
Several errors in Storm territory, including three in the first half as well as two disallowed tries will leave the Broncos pondering what may have been.
Brisbane made the opening 10 minutes their own, completing three more sets with 68% possession and twice as many runs.
That dominance should have resulted in the game’s first points after eight minutes when the Lachlan Maranta crossed.
However Brisbane celebrations proved futile, with the final pass judged controversially forward.
That would soon become a double blow four minutes later.
The Storm were awarded a penalty just short of halfway and Cooper Cronk assembled his troops for a brief moment to call for calm – it worked.
Off the following set Ryan Hoffman collected a Smith pass 10 metres from home and danced through the Broncos line to cross for the game’s opener.
The Broncos may have started well but would find themselves 12-nil down after 20 minutes.
Justin Hodges’ slow start at fullback would see a Cronk grubber kick prove too hot to handle. Hodges fumbled the football back into the path of his Maroons teammate who made him pay under the posts.
In need of a kick-start, Brisbane turned to their in-form playmaker.
On 24 minutes, Ben Hunt steamrolled Ben Roberts in a brilliant solo-effort to put the visitors on the board.
This was when the game would take an intriguing turn.
As the clock ticked over the half hour mark both captains would leave the field accompanied by physios, Corey Parker with an apparent knock to the head while Smith took a premature walk to the sheds with what appeared to be a lower leg injury.
On 32 minutes the Broncos could have made a solid case for their second try when Andrew McCulloch was held up on the line by Hoffman as replays showed the Storm veteran in an offside position.
There were claims for a penalty try but the visitors had to settle for a scrum feed 10 metres out. They had been denied twice in the first half but wouldn’t a third.
Jack Reed was the beneficiary of a deft Justin Hodges pass for the Broncos’ next try. Parker would return to the field in time to take the kick but failed to convert, leaving the score at 12-10 heading into halftime.
As the siren sounded the Broncos were dealt a blow with Reed dislocating his shoulder and would take no further part in the game.
Carrying what would appear to be a high ankle sprain it looked as though it was night over for the Storm skipper. Guess again. Smith would emerge less than two minutes after the restart.
In a game with no shortage of drama it would be the Brisbane skipper who levelled the scores with 30 minutes to play courtesy of a penalty goal.
It was pressure football that got to even the best of them as the ever-reliable Billy Slater dropped the football twice in the second half.
With 15 minutes to play the game was there for the taking and Fonua proved to be the hero. A hampered Smith was forced to hand the kicking duties to Will Chambers, who scuffed the kick leaving the score at 16-12.
Fonua would stand up yet again eight minutes later, intercepting Hunt’s pass to entrench the Storm in the eight and leave the Broncos’ finals chances hanging by a thread.
Melbourne Storm 22 (Fonua 2, Hoffman, Cronk tries; Smith 2, Chambers goals) defeated Brisbane Broncos 12 (Hunt, Reed tries; Parker 2 goals) at AAMI Park. Crowd: 20,032.