Pearce steps up, deja vu for the Storm and the race for the top four heats up. Key talking points from a thrilling contest at Adelaide Oval.
With Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Will Chambers rested after a brutal Origin II victory on Wednesday night, the young Melbourne Storm went into the top-of-the-table clash against the Sydney Roosters as big underdogs.
The Roosters' average age was 25 years and 269 days (courtesy of David Middleton) with a combined games total of 1,849.
The Storm’s average age was 24 years and 2 days, and a tally of 853 NRL appearances.
With a massive difference of 996 games between the two sides, Melbourne came be extremely proud of their side’s performance despite the excruciating loss.
"I couldn’t ask for any extra in effort," Storm coach Craig Bellamy said. "The amount of effort they put in with and without the ball was tremendous. I couldn’t be any prouder but I’m really disappointed [because] we needed to learn and we didn’t.
"The expectation is to produce that every week. It might sound a bit hard but that’s what it is."
It was déjà vu for Melbourne for the second week in a row after comfortably leading in the final 10 minutes but relinquished their advantage with back-to-back extra-time matches.
"The disappointing thing in the loss is we did exactly the same thing as last week," Bellamy said. "We had a good lead with 10 minutes to go last week and we had another good lead with 10 minutes to go tonight.
"We did the same things this week as we did last week so we didn’t learn from what we didn’t do well. We paid a price for that."
While it’s just their third loss of the season, there’s plenty of promising signs for the league leaders for the rest of this year and the near future.
"It’s a good learning curve for the young fellas," stand-in captain Jesse Bromwich said. "They can learn from this. They’re pretty gutted in the sheds. They’ll learn from this and they can hold their heads up high."
Roosters secure landmark win
Once again, the Tricolours couldn’t produce a consistent 80-minute performance. However, trailing 20-6 with 25 minutes remaining and then 24-12 in the final 10 minutes without inspirational co-captain Boyd Cordner, the Roosters managed to pull off a Houdini-like escape act for a vital victory and hand the competition leaders just their third loss of 2017.
"We were bad in patches tonight," Mitchell Pearce said. "We had a real lack in energy. It was a pretty poor performance from us for most of the game but when it mattered most in the final 10 minutes, the boys found something."
While there’s certainly plenty to work on, it will provide a tremendous amount of confidence for the Bondi side to know they are capable of beating quality opposition even when it’s not their best of days.
Melbourne were the first of a three-week litmus test for the Roosters who take on the reigning premiers Cronulla Sharks and arch-nemesis South Sydney Rabbitohs in the next two rounds.
Pearce strikes back
After the anguishing Game Two loss on Wednesday night that could’ve sealed the Origin series for the NSW Blues, ever-maligned halfback Mitchell Pearce shrugged off the disappointing result and stepped up to prove his effectiveness in the clutch moments with the match-winning field-goal from 35 metres out in the 85th minute.
In a rollercoaster-like week with critics questioning his selection for Game Three, Pearce displayed his ability to manage down the stretch while trailing against the Storm.
When asked of his sensational field-goal strike, Pearce simply answered: "The lord was on my side."
Pearce might have been in a fortunate position but it was his performance under pressure that got his side home.
Top-four race heats up
Before last night’s match, the Storm enjoyed a four-point buffer atop the NRL ladder. The Roosters’ win brings them two points from first place and sets up a massive round next weekend for the top four with just 10 rounds to go.
Melbourne face a quick six-day turnaround to travel to Brisbane to face the Broncos on Friday night. Brisbane claimed a strong 30-20 win over the Raiders in Canberra and will be determined to entrench themselves atop the ladder. The Storm expect their Big Three in Smith, Cronk and Slater to return for the Friday night blockbuster while it may be touch-and-go for Chambers who suffered a head knock.
After facing last year’s grand finalists in the Storm, the Roosters take on the premiers next weekend. It’s also the final audition for Origin selection in Game Three and will be a huge weekend.
Bring league back to Adelaide
While Adelaide fans are more accustomed to watching other codes, the Storm and Roosters attracted a strong crowd of 21,492 fans who were on the edge of their seats witnessing quality rugby league in a heart-stopping finish.
While the Adelaide Rams were a failed experiment, the passionate vocal crowd showed the time may be near to introduce another Adelaide team.
"There were heaps of numbers out there today," Bromwich said. "You could hear them at times cheering – I’m not sure if they knew the rules or not but it’s a great place to play."
When rugby league can produce a classic game like Saturday night’s epic, there wouldn’t be a single fan disappointed – win, loss or draw.