Storm hang on to beat Manly
The Melbourne Storm have survived a second-half surge by the Sea Eagles to hold on for a thrilling 30-26 win in a truly bizarre contest at Lottoland that saw the sides combine for nine tries in the first half alone.
Melbourne looked home and hosed with a comfortable 30-12 lead after 39 minutes only for the Sea Eagles to pile on the next three tries of the game to pull within four points midway through the second half.
Despite being held scoreless for the second stanza, the Storm held firm when it mattered most, with Craig Bellamy's men completing an impressive 90 per cent of their sets following last week's ugly loss to the Sharks.
The Sea Eagles got off to a horrible start with their kick-off going out on the full and things got worse from the very next set when Storm winger Suliasi Vunivalu continued his love affair with Lottoland to cross untouched off a Billy Slater pass.
Melbourne extended their lead when Young Tonumaipea - who was filling in for the suspended Will Chambers – spun his way over only moments after his side had dodged a bullet when Akuila Uate was held up over the line.
The Storm's right edge continued to wreak havoc in the early exchanges with Vunivalu flying through the air to reel in a Cooper Cronk cross-field kick to make it 14-0 after 16 minutes.
A shell-shocked crowd could only watch on as Vunivalu streaked down the sideline, passed inside to Cronk – who thankfully let the ball slip miss his fingers – only for Josh Addo-Carr to loom up in support to score next to the posts.
The match would have been out of reach had Cameron Smith brought his kicking boots, and his wayward attempts were punished when Frank Winterstein powered his way over to make it a 12-point game despite Melbourne's early dominance.
Manly continued to attack down their left edge and were rewarded 15 minutes out from half-time when Jorge Taufua burrowed over from close range to bring the Lottoland faithful to their feet.
The Storm then had a chance to settle things down with a gift two points from directly in front but skipper Cameron Smith opted to take the quick tap instead and the move paid dividends with Slater playing short to send Felise Kaufusi over.
Manly would have copped a 10-point deficit at the break but the Sea Eagles were their own worst enemies in the shadows of half-time as they sent another kick-off over the dead ball line, and unsurprisingly they were punished when Slater and Kaufusi linked up to send the back-rower over for his second try of the day.
Manly needed something heading into the sheds and they were given some hope when Brian Kelly crashed over with the siren sounding in the background to make it 30-16 at the break.
Somewhat surprisingly it took 10 minutes for first points after the break, but importantly for Manly fans it was their inspirational lock Jake Trbojevic who crashed over courtesy of a flat pass from his brother Tom.
The Sea Eagles looked certain to go in again minutes later when Tom Trbojevic sent Kelly into acres of space but the young centre was brilliantly denied by Slater who brought him down in goal and forced the ball free all in the one motion.
Manly didn't have to wait long for their fifth try of the afternoon with Brenton Lawrence the beneficiary of some brilliant lead-up play by Uate to bring his side within four points with 15 minutes left on the clock.
The Sea Eagles huffed and puffed and threw everything they had at their fierce rivals, but Melbourne held firm to hang on for their sixth win of the season.
Storm 30 (Suliasi Vunivalu 2, Felise Kaufusi 2, Young Tonumaipea, Josh Addo-Carr tries; Cameron Smith 3 goals) def. Sea Eagles 26 (Frank Winterstein, Jorge Taufua, Brian Kelly, Jake Trbojevic, Brenton Lawrence tries; Dylan Walker 3 goals) at Lottoland. Half-time: 30-16. Crowd: 10,144