The Storm overcame the loss of star hooker Brandon Smith and George Jennings to snatch a late but costly 26-16 win against Wests Tigers.
Co-captain and representative prop Christian Welch also had to be assisted from the field in the dying minutes with a suspected ruptured Achilles as Melbourne continued a remarkable round one record under Craig Bellamy.
However, they had to do so with Smith (broken hand) watching all but the opening two minutes with his left arm in a sling after reeling out of an early tackle and Jennings suffering a suspected ACL rupture.
Craig Bellamy's men also had to come from behind to record their 20th consecutive round one victory after the Tigers dominated most of the match, with halfback Jahrome Hughes being the player most responsible for the win.
The Tigers led 10-4 at halftime and 16-10 midway through the second half but Hughes scored a solo try and engineered another for star recruit Xavier Coates, while rookie hooker Tyran Wishart impressed after playing 78 minutes on debut.
With the Storm forced to reshuffle and being down to just 15 players for most of the match, the win would rate as one of the most courageous in the club's history, while the Tigers would be disappointed they couldn't hold on.
Tigers winger Ken Maumalo scored two tries and was denied a third late in the match as the home team appeared set to spring an upset win.
Halves Luke Brooks and Jackson Hastings were among the best performers for the Tigers, along with lock Tyrone Peachey and second-rower Luciano Leilua.
Match: Wests Tigers v Storm
Round 1 -
Venue: CommBank Stadium, Sydney
- Storm hooker Brandon Smith reeled out of a tackle with team-mates Christian Welch and Josh King on Tyrone Peachey in just the second minute and immediately came to the sideline holding his left hand.
- Halfback Luke Brooks handled the ball twice in the Tigers opening try as Kiwis winger Ken Maumalo crossed in just the sixth minute.
- George Jennings hit back for the Storm five minutes later when he crossed untouched after quick ball movement involving star fullback Ryan Papenhuzen.
Jennings hits back for the Storm
- The joy for Jennings turned to despair when collapsed to the ground untouched and clutched at his right knee in the 24th minute before being assisted from the field.
- There were injury concerns for Tigers forward Luciano Leilua after a cannon-ball tackle by Storm replacement Trent Loiero as he was held up by Kenny Bromwich and Josh King. Loiero was placed on report for the 28th minute incident.
- Brooks and five-eighth Jackson Hastings combined before fullback Daine Laurie fired a cut-out pass to put winger David Nofoaluma over for a 32nd minute try.
- Papenhuyzen's failure to kick a goal-line drop-out the required 10 metres enabled Brooks to extend the Tigers lead to 10-4 at halftime with a 40 metre penalty goal.
- Maumalo put the Tigers further ahead just three minutes into the second term when he outleapt Reimis Smith for a Brooks cross-field bomb.
Maumalo the aerial pickpocket
- Kumuls centre Justin Olam appeared to have scored for the Storm when he pounced on a Papenhuyzen grubber but he was denied after replays showed he failed to ground the ball cleanly.
- Jahrome Hughes and Papenhuyzen combined to put Loiero over in the 51st minute and the sideline conversion by Nick Meaney reduced the Storm's deficit to just four points.
Loiero gets there
- Another Brooks penalty goal after Kenny Bromwich caught a dropped Josh King pass in an offside position extended the Tigers lead to 16-10.
- Hughes stepped his way past six defenders to score under the posts and enable Meaney to level the scores with the simplest of conversions in the 59th minute.
- Maumalo again outleapt Smith for a Brooks kick but Smith and Papenhuyzen managed to hold him up in the in-goal.
- Xavier Coates put the Storm ahead for the first time in the match when he somersaulted over for a 66th minute try after Hughes broke through the ruck and linked with Papenhuyzen.
Air Coates ready for take-off
- Smith sealed the win when he scored in the 73rd minute.
Play of the game
With the game on the line and Melbourne having lost star hooker Brandon Smith and winger George Jennings to injury, halfback Jahrome Hughes took it upon himself to get his team home. The Tigers led 16-10 when Hughes scored after a stepping, jinking run in which he beat six defenders close to the opposition line. A midfield break by Hughes soon after also led to the match winning try by winger Xavier Coates.
Hughes levels it up
What they said
"I actually really liked the first half. Obviously we have gone away and looked at how we want to play and the style which we wanted to play and to play at this level all the time you have got to do what we did in the first half. We played some good passages of played and we grubber kicked to the corners. It is being able to do that for 80 minutes and if the boys are able to do that we will be very strong": Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire.
“To be quite honest, I can’t remember an effort as brave as that. If you have a look at the stats in the first half and we should have been 20 down so it was a really brave effort from our team tonight and I am really, really proud of them. We had five debutants but we also had two guys playing their first NRL game. Wishy went on after two or three minutes ... and young Alec, I think he got 55 minutes out and he has never played a Queensland Cup game let alone and NRL game": Storm coach Craig Bellamy.
Wests Tigers will travel to Newcastle next Sunday to take on a Knights team full of confidence after an impressive 20-6 upset of Sydney Roosters.
Prop James Tamou will return from suspension in a boost for the Tigers but coach Michael Maguire may be looking for another hooker after Jake Simpkin was forced from the field with a shoulder injury against the Storm.
The Storm will welcome back captain Jesse Bromwich (COVID), star five-eighth Cameron Munster, hooker Harry Grant and forward Chris Lewis (all suspended) for Craig Bellamy's 500th game in charge of the club against South Sydney on Thursday night.
However, they have lost Christian Welch (Achilles), Brandon Smith (hand) and George Jennings (knee), while Trent Loiero was placed on report for a cannon-ball tackle on Luciano Leilua.