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The Melbourne Storm continued their perfect start to 2013 with a hard-fought 22-18 victory over Canterbury Bankstown at AAMI Park.
11,923 fans witnessed an absorbing match which appeared over as a contest with 15 minutes remaining before a late Bulldogs rally ensured a nail-biting finish.
The Grand Final rematch started in almost perfect fashion for the hosts when halfback Cooper Cronk chip kicked for winger Mahe Fonua in just the fifth minute. With just Canterbury fullback Drury Low to beat, Fonua couldn’t take the ball and the Bulldogs survived.
Canterbury forward Greg Eastwood appeared certain to open the scoring in the 15th minute when he came up with a great low tackle on Storm winger Matt Duffie. Duffie dropped the ball and the Bulldogs moved possession quickly to the right hand side but unfortunately for them the ball was lost and Billy Slater saved the day for the hosts.
First points were finally scored not long after when Cronk delivered a perfect pass to lock forward Ryan Hinchcliffe who burst onto the ball, leaving Bulldogs fullback Drury Low with no chance of stopping him. Cam Smith added the extras from in front and Melbourne appeared to slowly be settling into their groove after a slow start.
Despite posing some questions of the Storm defence in attack the Bulldogs appeared lost at times with their fifth tackle options and in the shadows of halftime the Storm extended their lead through winger Fonua. Off the back of the scrum which came off a Drury Low error, Billy Slater combined with Gareth Widdop to send the winger across in the corner despite Sam Perrett’s best efforts.
Krisnan Inu kicked off on the full to put his side under more pressure nearing halftime but their defence held and turned the Storm away with Melbourne holding a 10-point lead at the break.
Canterbury got themselves back into the match courtesy of a controversial call in the 45th minute. Storm fullback Billy Slater successfully defused a towering Josh Reynolds bomb but in doing so appeared to extend his leg in attempting to protect himself from the onrushing defence. The Bulldogs were the beneficiaries of the penalty which was reversed and scored through Sam Perrett after Josh Reynolds found his winger with a perfectly placed kick.
The Storm looked certain to have extended their lead back out to 10 points in the 59th minute when halfback Cronk burrowed under the Canterbury defence but the home side had the try taken off them after it was ruled Bryan Norrie impeded the defence despite being 15 metres from where the try was scored. Lagi Setu put the home side further in front several minutes later before two quick-fire tries by the Bulldogs to Krisnan Inu and Kris Keating set up a nerve-racking finish.
The Storm held the Bulldogs out for the final minute despite being camped on their own line to earn a deserved two competition points.
MELBOURNE STORM 22 (Mahe Fonua, Matt Duffie, Ryan Hinchcliffe, Lagi Setu tries; Cameron Smith 3/4 goals) defeated CANTERBURY-BANKSTOWN BULLDOGS 18 (Krisnan Inu, Kris Keating, Sam Perrett tries; Krisnan Inu 3/3 goals) at AAMI Park, Melbourne (Melbourne Rectangular Stadium). Crowd: 11,923. Halftime: Storm 10-0.