Storm hold off fast-finishing Rabbitohs
A stirring second-half performance was not enough for South Sydney who have fallen just short of a maiden Melbourne win as the Storm restored their place atop the NRL ladder.
The home side held off a brave Bunnies outfit for a 16-12 win in front of 18,067 vocal fans at AAMI Park.
Souths very nearly snatched victory with five minutes remaining only to have the decisive try disallowed as Alex Johnston had stepped on the touchline in the lead-up.
It was a vital win for Melbourne who are now well placed heading into the Origin period with a 7-3 win-loss record, running equal first with the Broncos and Cowboys.
Billy Slater again showed he has not missed a beat in his return from injury with 126 metres and a try assist while Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Will Chambers all put in key performances that will have Maroons coach Mal Meninga smiling.
The Rabbitohs refused to give in but without the deft kicking game of Adam Reynolds simply lacked that match-winning polish as they slumped to their fourth loss in five games without their halfback.
They burst out of the blocks early with the first three sets of the game and when Bryson Goodwin kicked a penalty goal inside two minutes you sensed their Melbourne hoodoo may be broken.
Chris McQueen could have put South Sydney further ahead but lost the ball as he lunged for the line.
However a fiery five-minute stretch was followed by 20 minutes to forget as the Bunnies committed four penalties and four errors as the momentum swung a full 180.
Two Cameron Smith penalty goals nudged the home side ahead and on 19 minutes Jesse Bromwich crossed for his first try of the season.
From there it was back to the Bunnies' ball, as they piled on the pressure for 10 fruitless minutes in Melbourne territory.
However after three goal-line drop outs and four consecutive sets the purple wall refused to be moved, leaving South Sydney scratching their heads of what to do next.
The Storm weathered the onslaught and followed it up with a huge psychological blow on the stroke of half-time courtesy of the their Maroons quartet.
The ball went through the hands of Smith, Cronk and Slater and to the right edge where Chambers who burst through the green and red line for a healthy 14-2 half-time lead.
The Rabbitohs needed to show more fight from the restart but Tim Grant took that rather too literally when he was placed on report for collecting Cronk with a high forearm.
But the visitors were back in the game by the 47th minute. Luke Keary, whose kicking game was virtually non-existent in the first half, connected with a high flying Alex Johnston who scored the Bunnies' first try to cut the deficit to eight.
Mahe Fonua then knocked on to hand Souths possession 10 metres from the Storm line and young gun Aaron Gray made the hosts pay by going over in the corner for his third try in as many first-grade games.
An arm wrestle then ensued for the middle part of the second half as both sides pushed for that next game-breaking try.
On 68 minutes the visitors were handed primed possession when Smith kicked out on the full from his own 30 – the third time he had done so in the game – yet a knock on by Isaac Luke snuffed out the golden chance on just the first tackle.
The Rabbitohs will take on the Eels next Friday night while the Storm will enjoy the bye week ahead of Origin I.
Melbourne Storm 16 (Jesse Bromwich, Will Chambers tries; Cameron Smith 2 goals, Smith penalty goal) def. South Sydney Rabbitohs 12 (Alex Johnston, Aaron Gray tries, Isaac Luke goal; Bryson Goodwin penalty goal) at AAMI Park. Crowd: 18,067. Half-time: Storm 14-2