Melbourne rained on Ryan Hoffman’s 250-game celebration by reclaiming the Michael Moore Trophy with a convincing 30-14 victory over the Vodafone Warriors at AAMI Park tonight.
Coming off a 16-24 loss to Brisbane, the Vodafone Warriors began the contest full of promise but were unable to convert opportunities on a night when errors were again critical.
Melbourne profited from two of them for first half tries to Mahe Fonua and Marika Koroibete to take a 12-0 lead despite the Vodafone Warriors making much of the play to that point.
They weren’t deterred, though, and when the opening came close to halftime they were quick to make a statement of their own.
With the Storm reciprocating with an error 30 metres out, the Vodafone Warriors then won a penalty on the last tackle and on the repeat set executed perfectly on their left.
Tuimoala Lolohea floated a long ball wide to wing Manu Vatuvei who finished off only the way he can, propping infield and taking multiple defenders with him to get the ball down (not that the officials thought he had done so). Indeed the initial call was ‘no try’ but the video referees found evidence to support Vatuvei’s confidence that he had scored.
While Shaun Johnson’s conversion attempt was just wide the Vodafone Warriors were back in the hunt at 4-12 at the break.
The second half began disappointingly, though, when the old firm of Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater were able to work their magic, Cronk chipping over the top, Slater scorching through on his inside shoulder to bat the ball on and see the move finish with Kevin Proctor putting Will Chambers in.
Unperturbed the Vodafone Warriors stayed in the grind and in the 58th minute they had the margin back to eight points at 10-18 after Nathan Friend seized his moment from dummy half to score a rare try.
Trouble was Melbourne was in just as quickly again after a long Koroibete break ultimately resulted in a try for Tim Glasby. With Cameron Smith kicking flawlessly the Storm was out to a 24-10 lead.
Again the Vodafone Warriors needed to be the next to score – and score again – to have any real chance of affecting the outcome.
The first requirement was met when Chad Townsend’s grubber kick ricocheted into Sebastine Ikahihifo’s hands for his first NRL try in his 31st appearance and his first outing for the season. Johnson was astray from a handy angle but at 14-24 there was definite chance, provided they were the next to score.
Disappointingly it was the Storm who were able to respond immediately, Koroibete’s second try of the night helping to stretch the lead to the final scoreline of 30-14.
It was a challenging contest for the Vodafone Warriors again as they were forced to adapt to line-up changes with Konrad Hurrell replacing the originally-selected Ngani Laumape. There was also a change on the bench with Dominique Peyroux brought in to replace Albert Vete.
Yet again captain Simon Mannering carried a large chunk of the defensive workload as he made 52 tackles (the fourth time in five games he has made 50-plus tackles) while prop Ben Matulino topped all forwards for metres gained.
In his 199th match Vatuvei scored his 138th try and his third this season. He also shook up a try-bound Slater with a rattling cover tackle in the first half but it was no great consolation.
Now he and his team-mates need to regroup for the in-form Wests Tigers at Mount Smart Stadium next Saturday (7.30pm kick-off), a night when Vatuvei becomes just the third player to appear in 200 games for the Vodafone Warriors.
Match details | AAMI Park, Melbourne
Melbourne Storm 30 (Marika Koroibete 2, Mahe Fonua, Will Chambers, Tim Glasby tries; Cameron Smith 5 conversions).
Vodafone Warriors 14 (Manu Vatuvei, Nathan Friend, Sebastine Ikahihifo tries; Shaun Johnson conversion).
Halftime: 12-4 Storm.
Referees: Adam Devcich and Gavin Reynolds.
Vodafone Warriors | Tuimoala Lolohea; Jonathan Wright, Konrad Hurrell, Solomone Kata, Manu Vatuvei; Chad Townsend, Shaun Johnson; Jacob Lillyman, Thomas Leuluai, Ben Matulino; Bodene Thompson, Ryan Hoffman; Simon Mannering (c). Interchange: Nathan Friend, Sebastine Ikahihifo, Sam Lisone, Dominique Peyroux.