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The Melbourne Storm have held off the Wests Tigers to prevail 14-12 in their Round 15 NRL clash at Olympic Park this afternoon in front of 10,147 fans.
The Storm had the better of the play over the course of the 80 minutes, but a 69th minute Tim Moltzen try cut their lead to two points, and the sending off of Dane Nielsen for a 77th minute high tackle on Beau Ryan made the last few minutes a hairy experience for the home fans.
"Some young kids dug deep there for the last ten minutes," Storm halfback Cooper Cronk told Fox Sports after the game.
Nielsen became the first player to be sent off in an NRL match this season, and even more remarkably, the sending off came in his first-ever first-grade game.
They may have been missing Origin stars Cam Smith, Greg Inglis, Billy Slater and Dallas Johnson, but the men in purple were dominant almost right off the bat, finally going over through halfback Cooper Cronk in the 18th minute after good lead-up work from hooker Ryan Hinchcliffe (filling in for Smith) and five-eighth Brett Finch.
But for good goal-line defence from the Tigers, the Storm could have been up by a lot more early.
The Tigers hit back soon afterwards though with a try to young five-eighth Blake Ayshford, and could have taken the lead in the shadow of half-time. But forward Daine Laurie dropped a pass after fellow big man Gareth Ellis made a bust up the middle, almost certainly costing the Tigers a try. As it was, a Melbourne penalty goal right on half-time gave them a slender lead at the break.
Soon after the break, Melbourne extended their lead in somewhat controversial circumstances with a Matt Cross try, which came off the back a penalty against Daine Laurie for what was deemed to be a late shoulder charge on Melbourne kicker Cooper Cronk.
Things looked grim for the visitors, but Moltzen's try, set up by a great break from Ayshford, and the sending off set up an exciting finish. However, the Tigers couldn't seriously threaten the Storm line again in the dying minutes, enabling the Storm to survive.
Tigers forward Gareth Ellis told Fox Sports that his side "probably left it a little too late".
Prop Sika Manu was a standout in both attack and defence for Melbourne, and he was joined by the likes of Ryan Hoffman, Brett Finch, Ryan Hinchcliffe and Will Chambers in the standout category for the home side.
Blake Ayshford, with his key involvement in both Tigers' tries and a good game defensively too, was the star for the visitors. John Morris, filling in at hooker for Robbie Farah, also defended very well.
The Storm are now just one point behind competition frontrunners the Bulldogs, Dragons and Titans in fourth place, and have won six of their last seven matches.
The Tigers, meanwhile, languish just two spots off the bottom of the NRL ladder, and have still never won at Olympic Park (eight losses in eight lifetime games).
Match Details Melbourne Storm 14 def Wests Tigers 12 Round 15 - Sunday June 21st, 2009 02:00pm Venue: Olympic Park, Melbourne Referees: Steve Lyons & Ashley Klein Sideline Officials: David Abood & Mohamad Fajajo Video Referee: Steve Clark Crowd: 10,147 Halftime: Storm 8 Tigers 6
Melbourne Storm 14 Tries: Cooper Cronk, Matt Cross Goals: Joseph Tomane (3/3) Wests Tigers 12 Tries: Blake Ayshford, Tim Moltzen Goals: Benji Marshall (2/2)
LeagueUnlimited.com Player of the Match 3 Points: Sika Manu (Storm) 2 Points: Will Chambers (Storm) 1 Point: Blake Ayshford (Tigers)
LeagueUnlimited.com Live Commentary Talk about the game as it happens - Storm v Tigers forum discussion - click here!
Hello and welcome to this Round 15 clash between the Storm and Tigers at Olympic Park!
The news from Melbourne is that the Tigers have been boosted by the returns of Chris Lawrence and Gareth Ellis to the line-up this afternoon, whilst for Melbourne, Brett White starts in place of Jeff Lima in his 100th NRL appearance. Chris Heighington is the main dropout for the Tigers. The teams are thus:
STORM: 1. Steve Turner 2. Anthony Quinn 3. Will Chambers 4. Dane Nielsen 5. Joseph Tomane 6. Brett Finch 7. Cooper Cronk (c) 17. Brett White 9. Ryan Hinchcliffe 10. Adam Blair 11. Sika Manu 12. Ryan Hoffman 13. Aiden Tolman Interchange: 8. Jeff Lima 14. James Maloney 15. Matt Cross 16. Scott Anderson TIGERS: 1. Tim Moltzen 2. Taniela Tuiaki 3. Rhys Hanbury 19. Chris Lawrence 5. Beau Ryan 6. Blake Ayshford 7. Benji Marshall (c) 8. Bryce Gibbs 9. John Morris 11. Todd Payten 13. Corey Payne 18. Gareth Ellis 4. Dene Halatau Interchange: 10. John Skandalis 14. Willie Mataka 15. Danny Galea 16.Daine Laurie
Oveercast and 16 degrees at the moment in Melbourne, with minimal wind.
At first, this would appear to be an easy one for Melbourne. They