Melbourne have defeated the Sydney Roosters 26-18 in a thrilling clash that was marred by another concussion for star halfback Luke Keary.
It was only in the last 10 minutes that the Storm could make the game safe: until then, the lead had never been more than six points and had swapped four times.
It was real high-quality footy; both teams completed high, ran hard and promoted the ball, with a smattering of errors and plenty of line breaks, especially for the Storm.
The game was a story in itself, but was somewhat overshadowed by the head knock drama involving Keary.
He has missed plenty of time through head issues, with five in a little more than a year in 2019 and 2020, but had avoided major issues with concussions since – until Saturday night. Trent Robinson could not confirm the extent of the injury, but the prognosis could be bad as he has such a long history.
The halfback had been enjoying close to his best game of the season up until the half hour mark, but caught friendly fire from the knee of Joey Manu and looked immediately dazed.
There was a brief period where both Roosters halves were off with head knocks, with Sam Walker departing in the second half but returning later.
He sustained his in a tackle with Felise Kaufusi, who may have to deal with the disciplinary system after appearing to aim an elbow at his opponent. Fox League commentator Greg Alexander said Kaufusi knew what he was doing as his forearm slammed Walker’s head into the SCG turf.
Kaufusi was at the centre of everything, good and bad. He produced a superb offload to give debutant Grant Anderson the first of his two tries, added a late one of his own to seal the game and topped 100m with ball in hand, but also was involved in the incident with Walker that could interest the judiciary.
His edge, which produced all five Storm tries, was superb all night. Marion Seve and debutant Grant Anderson both got doubleds. The other side wasn’t bad either: Justin Olam and Dean Ieremia topped the metre charts.
Anderson could be in for a decent stint in the NRL with Xavier Coates ruled out for two months with the syndesmosis injury he suffered in Origin I.
“The lead changed plenty and we were probably a little fortunate, because Tupouniua dropped that ball and then we end up scoring off the next set. Either team could have won tonight. We’re really grateful we’re going home with the two points,” Storm coach Craig Bellamy said.
“I just gave our back three a real wrap. We see their back three as a real danger: with Tedesco, Suaalii and Tupou, there’s not many better back threes in the competition.
“I thought our back three, who haven’t played much first grade or Nick Meaney, who hasn’t played much fullback, they were three of our best players.
“That’s the best game Seve has played for our club. He hasn’t been a regular and perhaps lacked confidence around that, but he’s played five games now and has done some really good things.
“Other times, his concentration has dropped a touch, but today, he got it on from the start and kept it for 80 minutes. He played really well.”
For the Roosters, this is now the tenth successive meeting with Penrith or Melbourne where they have come off second best. It was far from a bad performance, but they are just one level below the top two at this stage.
Joseph Suaalii and Manu were, again, outstanding, while Daniel Tupou and James Tedesco backed up from State of Origin defeats well. Neither deserves to have lost twice in a week.
“I feel like we’ve been getting better and better, since the Gold Coast game,” said Robinson. “We’ve got the combinations and the flow of our sets has been much better. We’ve been able to get the points and apply the pressure.
“We should have been better at 12-6 but we had three errors in a row to keep the door ajar. I felt like we were in a dominant period and we needed to continue that. Instead, we gave them good field position that got it back to 12-10.
“There were a couple of periods of those where we had that. It so close. The ruthless edge of some of the games we’ve played with keeping a lead and putting the foot on the throat at different times. We’ve let that off and left the door open.
“You can see the makings of a team there that’s going to dance at the top but we’ve got to be better than what we are in those periods.”
The action started immediately. Ieremia burst from dummy half and raced 70m in the clear, but when the moment came to pass to Anderson for a try three minutes into his debut, he missed his man completely.
Having been reprieved, the Roosters made Melbourne pay. On the first good ball set, they rolled out a classic move.
Keary took control and got the defence backpedalling, which allowed Walker through, and he found Manu, who flick-passed to Suaalii for the opener.
The Storm struck back within five minutes. Anderson had been robbed of a debut try in the opening moments but got one via a superb Kaufusi offload.
It could have been even worse for the Roosters, but for a frenetic period of play that resulted in a 12-point turnaround.
Seve had the break and found Jahrome Hughes with what looked like a clear run at the line. He turned in towards posts and was smashed by Suaalii, who had come from nowhere on the far side of the field to ambush Hughes.
The cover tackle from the winger was excellent, but Hughes should have taken it out of contention by running the ball straight in. It was an astounding miss.
As if to underline the tackle, Suaalli shot the line to leather Trent Loiero on the last. The Roosters then went 100m in three plays, resulting in Walker dribbling a kick behind Tui Kamikamica for himself to score.
It was then that Keary, close to the best on ground in the first half hour, caught a stray knee and was forced to depart for a head test from which he would not return.
It was as if the loss of their halfback knocking the stuffing out of the Roosters. They ceded position through two forward passes and Melbourne forced several repeats sets.
The pressure eventually told as Seve caught the defensive line going across rather than out and carried men over the line with him.
The Storm then had to withstand two more surges before the break. The first almost had Suaalii in at the corner, save for a late tackle from Nick Meaney, before Tupou lept for a kick and batted inside for a teammate, only for a forward pass to be called. It was not the first time this week that he has felt that pain.
The Roosters began the second half disastrously. Tedesco sent the kick off out on the full and before the Chooks had touched the ball, Seve had again barged over.
Then, to compound the pain, Walker had his run in with the elbow of Kaufusi and left the field for another head test.
The rejigging to replace both playmakers had Drew Hutchinson in the halfback role and Manu shifted to five eighth.
Wherever the Kiwi plays, he is a genius and showed it here, leaping out from dummy half, sliding a kick in and creating a score for Sitili Tupouniua.
Walker did return, but he could not stop the Storm grabbing back the initiative, as Hughes caught Daniel Tupou under the ball and found Anderson for a second.
The young five eighth did almost wrest control back: with a play looking dead on the last tackle, he swapped feet to dink a kick in that Tupouniua should have gathered, but dropped cold.
You can’t miss chances like that against Melbourne. Within 60 seconds, Kaufusi was dropped inside through a poor effort from Siosiuia Taukeiaho to score beside the posts.
Meaney made it 26-18, the biggest lead of the night to date, and the game was done.