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Melbourne?s three match winning streak came to an end today as the Sea Eagles snatched a last-gasp win courtesy of a try to veteran Steve Menzies just three minutes from fulltime.
With the Storm already guaranteed a finals berth, coach Craig Bellamy used today?s match as a chance to rest a wealth of stars ahead of next week?s first semi final - Billy Slater (groin), Matt Orford (shoulder), Robbie Kearns (foot) and captain Stephen Kearney (knee) all sat out today?s match.
Bellamy filled the void by elevating several youngsters into the side, including Steve Turner, Cooper Cronk and Antonio Kaufusi, all of whom showed plenty of promise while almost guiding the visitors to a courageous win. Turner and Cronk, in particular, turned in eye-catching performances while filling in for Slater and Orford respectively.
Despite today?s defeat the Storm has finished the NRL regular season in sixth place setting up a tantalizing showdown with the third-placed Broncos at Suncorp Stadium next week.
Bellamy was pleased with his side?s performance even though the Storm came away from Brookvale Oval empty handed.
?I was very happy with our guys? performance, we had a lot of changes to our team and I thought the young guys handled themselves pretty good,? Bellamy said.
?In the first 15 minutes we were a little bit scratchy but I thought the guys got into the game after that and a couple of tough decisions probably cost us a win.?
Bellamy will now set his sights on recording his first ever against his former club when the Storm takes on Brisbane next Saturday.
?We?ve just got to get ready for next week now, it?s a whole new competition and hopefully the guys we rested today will be back,? Bellamy added.
?It?s going to be a really tough game up there and it?s going to be a really good challenge for us.?
After trailing early in the match Melbourne steamed home in the second half to set up a thrilling finale that saw the lead change four times before Manly eventually sealed the win through Menzies? four-pointer.
Melbourne made a slow start to the match allowing Manly skip out to a 14-0 lead ? courtesy of two early tries to centre Albert Torrens and one to fullback Brett Stewart - before claiming its first points of the match six minutes before halftime.
Steven Bell opened the visitors? account and recorded Melbourne?s only points for the half after racing onto a Ben MacDougall grubber kick in the 34th minute.
Despite heading into the halftime break trailing by ten points, the Storm soon set about eroding the Sea Eagles? buffer early in the second term. When a strong run from close range resulted in Cronk crashing over the tryline in the 45th minute, the lead was cut to just four points.
But Manly struck back with a second try to Stewart in the 52nd minute before the Storm hit the lead following converted tries to Scott Hill and Bell. Hill touched down after a show of strength saw the former Test lock take three defenders over the tryline, while Bell was on the receiving end of a sublime David Kidwell offload close to the line.
Then it was the Sea Eagles? turn to hit the front when Scott Donald was awarded a fortuitous try off the back of an Andrew Walker cross-field bomb.
Melbourne looked to have the game won after Hill claimed his second try for the match in the 70th minute, the classy five-eighth again taking a number of defenders over the tryline in a barnstorming run.
But when Manly hooker Chad Randall put Menzies through a neat gap to score in the 77th minute, the win belonged to the home side.
Forward Glen Turner was the Storm?s only injury concern after suffering a calf injury in the last half.
DETAILS STORM 28 Tries: Bell 2, Cronk 1, Hill 2 Goals: Smith 4/5
SEA EAGLES 30 Tries: Torrens 2, Stewart 2, Donald 1, Menzies 1 Goals: Williamson 1/2, Walker 2/4
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James Avery: Phone (03) 9421 3222 Mobile: 0411 623 024 [email protected]