The rain was heavy enough to make putting up the Melbourne banner a chore, but the Knights fought their way through both the weather and their more fancied opponents to come within three short minutes of securing a gutsy victory in Melbourne tonight. It wasn't enough, though, as the home side scored a relatively simple try in the dying minutes to finish over the top of the unfortunate Newcastle side.
Both sides started the match simply, probing the opposition and trying to settle into the game in wet and slippery conditions. A neat piece of work by Cameron Smith, who switched the play inside to a flying Billy Slater, gave Melbourne the first points as the Queensland fullback drew his opposite number and sent Greg Inglis over the line untouched. Smith converted for a 6-0 lead, before errors and no less than three repeat sets from a slick Newcastle kicking game wrested control of the game away from the home side.
Wes Naqaima was the fortunate recipient of a Billy Slater error in the 31st minute; the fullback spilling the ball after sliding desperately to cover a smart little grubber from Mullen. Naqaima picked up the scraps and dived over next to the uprights, providing Kurt Gidley with an easy conversion to level the scores.
The Knights had the last say in the first half after a cheap penalty from Ryan Hinchcliffe on the siren gave Gidley the opportunity to snatch a relatively easy two points and the lead.
After something of a lacklustre first half, both sides would have been looking to up the ante in the second stanza, but the Storm started badly with a penalty and an error in the space of 3 minutes. They were given a huge reprieve when Danny Wicks dropped the ball first play off a scrum deep in Melbourne territory, the error compounded by the fact that the big prop only had to beat Billy Slater to score a possible try. That gave Cronk the opportunity to put an attacking grubber through for Slater down the other end, with the speedster taking advantage of a horrible bounce for Gidley to dive on the ball under the posts. A simple conversion from Cameron Smith put the home side back in front.
The lead changed again 5 minutes later, though, as the Storm allowed a bomb to bounce. Newcastle pounced on the loose ball and put it through the hands, with Aku Uate snatching a second Mullen kick and scoring the try. The conversion was again successful and Newcastle were up 14-12 with 27 minutes left to play.
The visitors spent the next 24 minutes looking for the knockout blow, but just couldn't find it as the Storm hung on desperately. Junior Sau was denied the match winner, after being held up twice in the second half, when Melbourne pushed him into touch in the 68th minute, and the match looked to be firmly in their hands when they held out a 5 minute Melbourne charge with only 4 minutes on the clock. However, a simple error from Chris Houston bringing the ball out of his own end gave the Storm another chance, and they didn't waste it. The ball went wide to Inglis, who fumble twice but regained control to put Will Chambers over in the corner. A great sideline conversion from the skipper not only extended the lead, but soaked up enough time to play Newcastle out of the match. Of course, nobody told Newcastle that, and in a tense finish they threw everything they could at the Melbourne line for the dying 60 seconds. As the siren went in the background, Jarrod Mullen hoisted a desperate bomb to the right flank, but Inglis defused it comfortably and the Storm survived to take the competition points.
Match Details Melbourne Storm 18 def Newcastle Knights 14 Round 17 - Saturday July 4th, 2009 7:30pm Venue: Olympic Park, Melbourne Referee: Shayne Hayne & Matt Cecchin Sideline Officials: Paul Holland & Rick McFarlane Video Referee: Paul Simpkins Crowd: 9,041 Halftime: Storm 6 Knights 8 Melbourne Storm 18 Tries: Greg Inglis, Billy Slater, Will Chambers Goals: Cameron Smith (3/3) Newcastle Knights 14 Tries: Wes Naiqama, Aku Uate Goals: Kurt Gidley (3/3) LeagueUnlimited.com Player of the Match 3 Points: Cooper Cronk (Storm) 2 Points: Matt Hilder (Knights) 1 Point: Billy Slater (Storm) LeagueUnlimited.com Live Commentary Talk about the game as it happens - Storm v Knights forum discussion - click here!
STORM: 1. Billy Slater 2. Steve Turner 3. Will Chambers 4. Greg Inglis 5. Joseph Tomane 6. Brett Finch 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Brett White 9. Cam Smith (c) 10. Adam Blair 11. Sika Manu 12. Ryan Hoffman 13. Dallas Johnson Interchange: 14. Ryan Hinchcliffe 15. Scott Anderson 16. Aiden Tolman 17. Jeff Lima KNIGHTS: 1. Kurt Gidley (c) 2. Keith Lulia 3. Junior Sau 4. Adam MacDougall 5. Akulia Uate 6. Ben Rogers 7. Jarrod Mullen 8. Mark Taufua 9. Isaac DeGois 10. Chris Houston 11. Steve Simpson 12. Zeb Taia 13. Matt Hilder Interchange: 14. Wes Naiqama 15. Marvin Karawana 16. Richie Fa Like