Melbourne ground out a second consecutive wet-weather success in earning a 26-10 win over the Vodafone Warriors in tonight's second-round NRL match at Mount Smart Stadium.
The home side briefly held a 10-6 lead in an action-packed first half but the Storm went to the break 12-10 ahead and the Vodafone Warriors - playing more than 50 minutes without concussed captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck - were thwarted throughout the second half.
In atrocious weather, the Storm were typically polished from the outset having experienced similar conditions in accounting for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs last week.
It was inevitable Cooper Cronk’s kicking game would be a key feature and it was right on point in the seventh minute, a precision chip swooped on by Kenny Bromwich for the first try of the night.
The 6-0 lead was in danger of becoming 12-0 when Cameron Munster latched onto another kick and put it down for a would-be try but the bunker determined he was ahead of the kicker. No try.
It was the cue for the Vodafone Warriors to bite into the contest, and do so with aplomb.
An Ata Hingano cross-field kick to the right was contested and won in a scramble, the ball shipped right with Shaun Johnson sending Tuimoala Lolohea in. Johnson’s conversion was splendid to lock it up 6-6 after 14 minutes.
Three minutes later the Vodafone Warriors had the lead and Johnson had an all-time club record.
It came as the Vodafone Warriors jolted the ball loose, Solomone Kata’s over-the-top pass allowing Johnson to step and surge through to plant the ball for his 56th career try, taking him to 677 points to move ahead of Stacey Jones’ club record of 674. He couldn’t convert with puddles of water around him.
The lead lasted only eight minutes with the Storm back in front through their tried and true kick formula in the 25th minute. Chasing across to sweep up the kick, Lolohea cruelly lost his footing, slid past the ball on the greasy surface and centre Cheyse Blair won the race to get a hand on it for the try. Cameron Smith converted to go past 2000 career points and put Melbourne 12-10 ahead.
The Vodafone Warriors lost Tuivasa-Sheck with a head knock in another severe in-game setback in the 28th minute but this was another tingling battle in the best traditions of Vodafone Warriors-Melbourne encounters. It had ebb and flow, heavy contact and scrambling defence.
When Melbourne speedster Suliasi Vunivalu was released on the right, desperate cover defence aided the Vodafone Warriors’ cause with Vunivalu stepping on the touchline as he flicked a wonderful pass infield for another would-be Munster try.
The teams headed to the sheds with just two points in it, the key stats all but even including completion rates and missed tackles.
The Vodafone Warriors opened up the second half solidly but gave Melbourne the only invitation needed conceding a last tackle penalty after what had been an impressive defensive set to that point. The Storm went downfield impressively, Cronk going right to put Vunivalu over and Smith converting brilliantly for an 18-10 lead after 44 minutes.
The Vodafone Warriors played patiently after the setback, earned themselves some field position and eventually created a try-scoring chance in the 54th minute, Hingano's grubber there for Kata but the bunker found he bounced the ball in trying to force it.
Three minutes later the Storm were over again, left wing Josh Addo-Carr given space and stepping inside to go across. It went to the bunker as a try but was rubbed out on an obstruction call giving the Vodafone Warriors some real relief.
When the Storm were awarded a penalty in front of the posts in the 64th minute, they opted for two point with Smith slotting for a 10-point lead at 20-10.
In the 74th minute Erin Clark came off the bench to become Vodafone Warrior #216 but almost immediately the Vodafone Warriors turned the ball over, a gift for Melbourne with Smith and Munster combining to put Cronk in to seal the result.
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 10 (Tuimoala Lolohea, Shaun Johnson tries; Shaun Johnson conversion).
Melbourne Storm 26 (Kenny Bromwich, Cheyse Blair, Suliasi Vunivalu, Cooper Cronk tries; Cameron Smith 4 conversions, penalty).
Halftime: 12-10 Vodafone Warriors.
Referees: Grant Atkins and Chris Butler.
Vodafone Warriors | Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c); Tuimoala Lolohea, David Fusitu'a, Solomone Kata, Ken Maumalo; Mafoa'aeata Hingano, Shaun Johnson; Albert Vete, Issac Luke, Charlie Gubb; Bunty Afoa, Ryan Hoffman; Simon Mannering. Interchange: Erin Clark, Jacob Lillyman, Sam Lisone, Bodene Thompson.