With the Cowboys at times dominating possession, and enjoying a flurry of penalties from referee Gavin Badger, the locals had every reason to believe they could roll the 2007 premiers. But the Storm forwards muscled up well enough to post their fifth win of the year.
Played in front of packed house of over 24,000 people, the match turned into a low scoring affair with only one try being scored in the first half.
Storm five-eighth Greg Inglis opened the scoring after just six minutes to put the Storm ahead 6-0.
The movement followed a sensational break downfield from Billy Slater, the Melbourne fullback looking to have done more than enough to earn selection for Australia in the Kangaroos v Kiwis Centenary Test on May 9.
But Slater was forced from the field in the 20th minute following an accidental eye poke from Cowboys half back Johnathan Thurston. While Slater took no further part in the match, he was seen warming up near the interchange bench midway through the second half.
The Cowboys were next to score in 51st minute with winger John Williams crossing on the end of an overlap. Thurston was unable to convert and with plenty of time on the clock, the Storm were holding onto a narrow 6-4 lead.
In the 62nd minute, Storm centre Israel Folau scored against the run of play, forcing his way over five metres in from the sideline. Cameron Smith slotted the wide conversion to give the visitors a 12-4 lead.
The contest was on again six minutes later when Cowboys winger Mark Henry finished well to score out wide on the back of a neat back line movement. Thurston's sideline conversion narrowed the margin to two.
The final 10 minutes saw play at both ends of the field with the Storm ultimately hanging on for a hard fought victory.
LeagueUnlimited.com Live Commentary Its the top of Oz vs their most southerly cousins in FNQ tonight. Great night in Townsville, the ground in top condition and a massive crowd on hand. Teams on the field, Both sides fielding strong outfits. We're in for a ripper of a contest. Cowboys kick off and its game on!
6 min: TRY Melbourne Storm Five eighth Greg Inglis scores 15m wide of the sticks. Follows a sensational 70m run from fullback Billy Slater, who almost went all the way but was just held by the jumper by Cowboys forward Steve Southern. Conversion attempt by Cameron Smith successful. Melbourne Storm 6-0
10 min: Video Ref looking at possible TRY to Storm... VERDICT: NO TRY and penalty to Cowboys. A huge towering bomb from Inglis is allowed to bounce and Cowboys fullback Matt Bowen fumbles in the race for the ball. Inglis picks up the scraps to race away and 'score'. But the video ref rules that Bowen was impeded in the scramble for the ball.
20 min: INJURY - Slater in a bit of bother after copping a thumb in the eye from Cowboys playmaker Johnathan Thurston. Not intentional. Slater leaves the field to have it checked out.
28 min: Penalty count is 5-0 in favour of the Cowboys and the referee is having a chat to Storm skipper Cameron Smith. Cowboys have certainly had their chances but errors are going against them.
30 min: End-to-end stuff with Cowboys earlier putting in an excellent 70m set, but are unable to put the touches on the last play. Storm then working it out of their own end - hot conditions in Townsville but it doesn't stop the Storm turning in a 64m set + kick.
35 min: Knock-on from Inglis sees the Cowboys on the attack late in the half. Follows a great tackle at the other end from Bowen which forces the ball loose and gives Cowboys possession.
38 min: Cowboys now with the ball in their own half and we're looking at a 6-0 half time scoreline.
Half time: Storm 6-0 Some sparkling play at times from both sides. The low scoreline is a good reflection of closeness of the contest and this is one game that is up for grabs. News from the sheds is that Slater will be on the bench and could return at some point.
Second half underway...
46 min: A few dropped balls in the opening minutes of the second half as a bit of dew starts to creep onto the pitch. More concerns for Slater who may have greater damage than first thought. The eye is completely closed and even though he still on the bench, it looks unlikely he will will return. Meanwhile, the penalty count is 7-0 in favour of the Cowboys.
48-50 min: Storm get their first penalty following a lifting tackle. Referee counters this by penalising Storm for roughing up a tackled player a minute later. Penalties 8-1.
51 min: TRY North Queensland Cowboys Winger John Williams scores in the corner following some champagne footy across the backline and close to the line. Williams on the end of an overlap. Conversion attempt by Thurston is well struck but just misses. Melbourne Storm 6-4
54 min: Hooker Anthony Watts makes a bust and puts the Cowboys on the attack. But great defence form the Storm forces an error with the ball being passed into touch on the next play. Nevertheless, Cowboys are dominating possession thus far in the second half.
62 min: TRY Melbourne Storm Israel Folau makes a powerful run at the line from close range to score 5m in from touch. Conversion attempt by Cameron Smith - top shelf kick and is successful. A big blow to the Cowboys who have plenty of possession but have simply been unable to convert it into points. Melbourne Storm 12-4
67 min: Referee penalises Storm when a defending player is ruled to have picked up the dregs in an offside position following a kick from the Cowboys. Cowboys take the tap right in front of the Storm uprights.
68 min: TRY North Queensland Cowboys Winger Mark Henry scores out wide and finishes well on the end of some quick hands. Tremendous sideline conversion attempt by Thurston is successful. Melbourne Storm 12-10
73 min: Cowboys still with the flow of possession. Penalties now 11-2 in favour of the home side.
76 min: Storm with a scrum feed deep in their own half.
78 min: Bowen knocks on while trying to play catch-up, and now Storm have the scrum feed 10m out from the Cowboys' goal line.
78 min: HELD UP - Storm denied. Winger Steve Turner held up.
79 min: Cowboys now with the the ball, the length of the field to go and their final opportunity. They eventually lose possession inside the Storm half. All over red rover.
Full time: Storm 12-10 Melbourne have worked hard for victory on the back of a great defensive effort from a number of their forwards. The Cowboys with over 50% possession and enjoying an 11-2 penalty count in their favour where simply unable to convert their chances, the home side struggling with their completions while recording 16 or more errors to Melbourne's 9. An entertaining match with Storm captain and hooker Cameron Smith leading the tackle count and leading from the front. Lock Dallas Johnson was not far behind. For the Cowboys, prop Ray Cashmere was a standout putting in a huge workload in both defence and metres gained.