Manly inspired by the powerful charges of prop Martin Taupau and inspiring displays from origin stars Daly Cherry-Evans and the Trbojevic brothers, led 12-0 after 25 minutes through two tries to Shaun Lane that were both converted by Cherry-Evans.
However, a Storm side resting 5 Origin players clawed their way back into the game through a Suliasi Vunivalu try to trail only 13-6 at halftime.
The Storm scored early in the 2nd half with a converted try to Brodie Croft and the crucial penalty goal to Cameron Smith came in the 71st minute after an accidental offside involving Joel Thompson gifted Smith a penalty attempt from close range.
Here are five things we learned from this game.
1. Storm and Sea Eagles rivalry still well and truly alive
The Sea Eagles were celebrating the 10th anniversary of their record 40-0 Grand Final thrashing of Melbourne in 2008 and looked as if they were inspired by that great Manly team with a superb start to the game.
The Sea Eagles forward pack led by lock Jake Trbojevic and props Martin Taupau and Addin Fonua Blake really dominated the middle in the early stages and the class of fullback Tom Trbojevic and halfback Daly Cherry Evans was clear to see on the back of Manly’s forward dominance.
The Storm were without origin stars Billy Slater, Josh Addo Carr, Will Chambers, Cameron Munster & Felise Kaufusi and lacked possession and field position against a fired up Sea Eagles outfit.
Manly were well on top with 64% of first half possession and the superb kicking game of Daly Cherry-Evans, however, the Storm’s defence held firm and the possession statistics evened up in the 2nd half.
The Storm were determined to make amends for their embarrassing 24-4 home loss to Manly in Round 11 and their young stars Brodie Croft, Brandon Smith and Jahrome Hughes along with NRL legend Cameron Smith stepped up their involvement in the second half, to help earn a very satisfying 14-13 win over their bitter rivals.
2. Sea Eagles season over as close calls go against them
Manly coach Trent Barrett has conceded that defeat to the Storm marks an end to any chance of a late charge for the 2018 finals.
Barrett also questioned the accidental offside ruling against his team with 10 minutes remaining.
A cross field kick from Brodie Croft was batted back by Suliasi Vunivalu, ricocheting off the head of Trent Hodkinson with Manly team mate Jordan Thompson landing on the ball.
Barrett thought it should have been a scrum feed to the Storm, instead of a penalty within goal kicking range. That incident along with what appeared to be a forward pass from Curtis Scott to Vunivalu for the Storm’s first try, added further frustration to what has been a very disappointing season for the Sea Eagles.
3. Sea Eagles forwards really impress again
Manly prop Martin Taupau made a massive 263 metres in the Round 18 clash in another stellar performance. His fellow starting prop Addin Fonua-Blake made 148 metres and Blues lock Jake Trbojevic 130 metres, providing an excellent platform for Manly to attack with. Unfortunately for Coach Trent Barrett’s team the intensity was noticeably lower with Taupau and Addin-Fonua Blake off the field.
4. Brodie Croft reminds us of his talent
Young Melbourne halfback Brodie Croft was in the Storm’s starting team again with coach Craig Bellamy resting Queensland stars Cameron Munster and Billy Slater. Croft looked sharp with his running and kicking game in the second half and scored a crucial try to get the Storm back into the game.
21-year-old Croft struggled in the early rounds to form a cohesive combination with Cameron Munster and Cameron Smith and the Storm’s poor completion rates did not reflect well on him either. However strong performances against the Dragons and Sea Eagles have put Croft back in the frame at least and Craig Bellamy has some interesting selection decisions to make as the Storm approach the finals.
5. Storm keeps perfect record through Origin period
The Melbourne Storm have come through the origin period unscathed in terms of results and their winning streak stands at 6 matches. The defending premiers keep winning despite having made the most handling errors this season, with a completion rate of only 74%. The Storm still has the 2nd best defence in the NRL and their resilience was highlighted as they limited Manly to 2 tries at Lottoland, despite the Sea Eagles enjoying 64% of the ball in the first half.
The biggest factor in the Storm’s winning form through the origin period is surely the great Cameron Smith playing every game and not being fatigued by Queensland duties. His class and experience continue to be a steadying influence in tight finishes and it proved so again at Lottoland. The Storm will be confident they can peak at the right time in their title defence with a fresh Smith leading the way.
What did you learn from Melbourne's narrow win over Manly? Let us know in the comments below.