Melbourne welcomed Billy Slater back in a heart-stopping 14-12 victory over Brisbane to keep alive their unbeaten start to the NRL season.
Skipper Cameron Smith converted a Josh Addo-Carr try from the sideline in the 77th minute on Thursday night at AAMI Park to consign the Broncos to another tight loss after their one-point defeat last week to North Queensland.
It looked like Brisbane were going to ruin Slater’s homecoming party in his first game in more than a year after shoulder surgery.
The Broncos didn’t follow the script, with some rugged defence throwing the Storm attack off their game.
But rookie Melbourne five-eighth Ryley Jacks threw a pass that bounced off two Brisbane defenders and into the arms of winger Addo-Carr for the try to lock up the match with Smith’s conversion sealing the deal.
The Storm were seething in the 62nd minute when the bunker ruled Will Chambers had lost possession as he reached out to ground the ball on the tryline, however a different angle appeared to show the Melbourne centre maintained contact.
That try would have tied up the match.
Despite the Storm’s late win, there are fears Cameron Munster might have a broken jaw after a head clash with Brisbane winger Corey Oates. Munster was forced off the field in the 60th minute.
Melbourne dominated possession and territory in the first half but could only manage an 8-6 lead, thanks to Jacks’ first try in the NRL.
Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy started Slater on the bench, with Munster at fullback and Jacks at No.6.
Following Jacks’ 22nd-minute try, Bellamy gave the crowd what they wanted, with Slater taking over fullback and Munster replacing Jacks.
Slater handled everything the Broncos threw at him and looked sharp in attack.
The Broncos took the lead in the second half via a brilliant individual try by halfback Ben Hunt, who dummied and then cut through some lazy Melbourne defence including Smith.
It looked like it would be enough for the Broncos but the Storm weren’t to be denied.
Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy believed his team should have been further ahead at halftime given their opportunities, but gave credit to the Broncos steely defence.
After a tough early schedule including a trip to New Zealand and six day turnaround, Bellamy felt his team earned the win but also said they had a dash of luck.
“It was bit mixed but I thought it was a pretty high quality game with the defence of both sides,” Bellamy said.
“Either team could have won it and we got a bit lucky at the end.”
Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett praised his team’s defence but said they were let down by their execution and “beat themselves”.
“We didn’t play well but we stayed at it,” Bennett said.
“The defence was very brave and very courageous.”
He felt the Broncos were in good shape given they’d played the two grand finalists in Melbourne and Cronulla – with a win apiece – and also the fourth-placed Cowboys.
“They know the’re in the competition,” Bennett said of his team.
“They get their execution right and they can be a real chance of doing something before the season’s out.”