Croft-inspired Storm thump Knights
A hat-trick to Brodie Croft has helped Melbourne secure the 2017 minor premiership with a 44-12 thumping over the Newcastle Knights in windy conditions at McDonald Jones Stadium.
It was conservative performance from the competition leaders who did just what was required after a terrible start that saw prop Jesse Bromwich sin-binned early for a professional foul.
Despite leading by 10 points at the break, Melbourne were guilty of a low completion rate in the opening half and a lacklustre kicking game after regular No.7 Cooper Cronk was rested for the contest.
Craig Bellamy's men proved too good in the end however with the Knights losing their way despite narrowing Melbourne's lead to 10 with 23 minutes to play.
 Telstra Premiership - Round 24: Knights vs Storm
Newcastle were on top early before the turning point came when in-form pivot Brock Lamb went down with a knee complaint, struggling from then on before leaving the field late in the contest.
A second-half try to Knights centre Joe Wardle was shortly cancelled out by a four-pointer to Will Chambers as the Storm put on a further two tries to secure the big win.
Controversy struck earlier in the contest with Bromwich sent to the sin-bin for a professional foul on Knights co-captain Jamie Buhrer.
The Bunker deemed Buhrer wouldn't have regathered a Brock Lamb grubber kick but that Bromwich had made a deliberate attempt to knock the Knights hooker over.
Newcastle took advantage of the extra man and the Lamb-Lachlan Fitzgibbon combination struck close to the line for the back-rower to get first points.
Melbourne responded five minutes later with Brodie Croft providing a kick for Kenny Bromwich to bat the ball back for Curtis Scott to get over the line.
The Knights were using the wind against them in the opening half to their advantage, getting the ball back from the kick restart and a line-drop out, but the visitors' defence was strong with Bromwich back on the paddock.
After their shaky start Melbourne were back on track when Dale Finucane steamrolled his way under the posts, but the visitors would have been ruing their next chance for points when Josh Addo-Carr went over in the corner but put a foot on the line in the process.
The scoreboard wasn't the only thing for the Knights to worry about at the break with Lamb requiring attention for a medial knee injury midway through the first half.
Sione Mata'utia was forced from the field for a HIA as Melbourne struck the final blow before the break with Croft showing speed to get around Trent Hodkinson and Sam Stone to score. Mata'utia was ruled out for the remainder of the contest during the break.
The game was sealed when Croft backed up a Bromwich line break to go over for a third, before the halfback threw a cut-out pass for Suliasi Vunivalu to score his 19th try of the season.
Storm prop Nelson Asofa-Solomona broke through four tackles on the stroke of full-time to make the scoreboard look ugly for the home side.
Remarkably, the 22-point win was Melbourne's biggest victory in their 17 outings at McDonald Jones Stadium – eclipsing the 13-point margin in 2013.
Melbourne Storm 44 (Croft 3, Scott, Finucane, Chambers, Vunivalu, Asofa-Solomona tries; Smith 5, Finucane 1 goals) defeated Newcastle Knights 12 (Fitzgibbon, Wardle tries; Hodkinson 1 goal) at McDonald Jones Stadium. Half-time: Storm 16-6. Crowd: 16,001.
Unofficial NRL.com votes: 3 points – Brodie Croft; 2 points – Nelson Asofa-Solomona; 1 point – Lachlan Fitzgibbon.