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Melbourne have one hand on the 2017 J.J. Gilitnan Shield after winning a thriller against second placed Sydney Roosters at AAMI Park tonight - a late try sealing a 16-13 win for the hosts in front of 17,000 fans.
The first half was intense as expected, but also controversial. With points at a premium, Melbourne were first to claim any points with a penalty goal to captain Cameron Smith in the 13th minute. They doubled down on the two points, going ahead 4-0 through another penalty goal in the 24th minute.
Three minutes later the game was turned on its head when Melbourne were awarded a penalty try following a Bunker referral after Suliasi Vunivalu followed through and appeared to win the race to a Cooper Cronk grubber, only to be pulled off the ball by Latrell Mitchell and lose it forward. The referee sent the decision to the Bunker as a penalty try and with no conclusive evidence to prove otherwise, the decision stood and the Storm's lead shot to 10-0.
Feeling hard done by, the Roosters moved to strike back and by the half-hour mark, Luke Keary had done just that with the visiting side's first try.
Ahead 10-6 at the break, Melbourne opted to add a penalty goal at the same interval as they had in the first half -13 minutes after the resumption of play.
The Roosters turned up the pressure and eventually the Storm defensive line cracked at the hour mark when Mitch Aubusson got over the line. Latrell Mitchell converted to level scores.
A war of attrition loomed, snapped six minutes from fulltime by Luke Keary's maiden NRL field goal to put the visitors ahead for the first time in the day - and during a crucial period of the match.
Unfortunately for the Tricolours' top-two hopes, they were unable to hold onto the one point lead with Joe Stimson breaking through close to the line, and after being cleared by the Bunker for any potential obstruction, the Storm held a three-point lead.
Try as they might, the Roosters final couple of moments produced no goods and the Storm held on to all-but secure the minor premiership, needing just a solitary competition point from the last three NRL rounds to officially take possession of the J.J. Giltinan Shield. They'll almost certainly claim that honour when they travel to 15th-placed Newcastle's home ground next week, where they'll visit the Knights on Saturday afternoon.
The Roosters will lick their wounds and head home to Allianz Stadium where they'll host the currently last-placed Wests Tigers next Saturday as they look to keep the pressure on Brisbane for the remaining spot in the top two.
Melbourne Storm 16 - Sydney Roosters 13
Venue: AAMI Park
Halftime Score: Melbourne Storm 10 Sydney Roosters 6
LeagueUnlimited.com Players of the Match:
3 points - Cameron Smith
2 points - Connor Watson
1 points - Luke Keary
MELBOURNE STORM (16)
Tries: Suliasi Vunivalu, Joe Stimson
Field Goals: Cameron Smith (0/1)
Conversions: Cameron Smith (1/2)
Penalty Goals: Cameron Smith (3/3)
SYDNEY ROOSTERS (13)
Tries: Luke Keary, Mitchell Aubusson
Field Goals: Luke Keary (1/1)
Conversions: Latrell Mitchell (2/2)