The Melbourne Storm have struck back into the winner's circle with a hard-fought win over a tenacious New Zealand Warriors side to retain the Michael Moore Cup 24-12 at Mt Smart Stadium tonight.
It was a fiery start to this contest with Nelson Asofa-Solomona in the report book of referee Peter Gough twice inside the first 5 minutes. Firstly for a dangerous throw on Edward Kosi, then off the proceeding penalty an elbow to the head of hooker Wayde Egan who was forced off clutching his jaw. Thankfully, Egan was cleared of ANY jaw injury. Unfortunately for the home side, their execution on the goal-line gave Melbourne a get-out-of-jail-free card.
Off the back of a cheap late shot from Josh Curran, Melbourne was back to their best and it has to be said, the defensive effort from the Warriors left a lot to be desired. They loaded up on the left-hand edge and it's Cameron Munster who provides a lovely ball to Justin Olam who gets past some pedestrian defence to score the first try tonight. Melbourne thought they had a second minutes later, Melbourne was blitzing them down the right-hand side but Grant Anderson couldn't handle the pass back inside from Marion Seve and the lead remained at six points.
Melbourne's wrestling tactics earned the attention of referee Peter Gough again, when Josh King had his hands around the eye of Jazz Tevaga, the replays don't look good for King and in the wake of the Corey Waddell suspension, he could have some time on the sidelines. Melbourne's left edge was torn apart after a lovely pass from Chanel Harris-Tavita which landed on the chest of Edward Kosi and the rangy winger crashes over for the Warriors to get themselves into the contest only being down two points.
Unfortunately, another cheap penalty set the Storm up in great attacking field position and you can't give a side with this much talent the ball. They went after a limping Chanel Harris-Tavita and it was Jahrome Hughes who provided a great ball to Felise Kaufusi who was brought down by Walsh before a wonderful offload to Harry Grant who crossed to extend the lead for the Storm back out to six. Off the back of a short dropout which backfired, the Warriors continued going blow for blow with Melbourne. Their poor left-edge defence was exploited following a lovely pass from Wayde Egan which sent Edward Kosi away in the corner for his second of the evening and the margin was just two points at the change of end.
Melbourne started the second half in emphatic style, off the back of a set restart for a slow ruck. The Storm camped down the Warriors' end and following a poor read in defence from Euan Aitken, Jahrome Hughes stepped his way past the defenders and Melbourne was quickly out to an eight-point lead. It was another shift to the right that sent Anderson down the sideline before he put it on the boot inch perfectly and Nick Meaney did enough to get it down after it was initially called NO TRY. Meaney's conversion hit the upright so the Warriors were still within two converted tries.
The margin was extended when the Warriors conceded an elementary penalty as they failed to drop kick the ball within the allotted time, Meaney potted over the gift two points and the lead was out to 14. Meaney would depart just on the hour mark following an ugly collision with DWZ and with a mammoth injury toll, it's a seismic blow on the eve of the finals and could be the cue to try and get a quick-fire signing with the deadline closing in three days.
New Zealand was forcing mistakes and finally, off a well-worked scrum play, a great cutout pass from Shaun Johnson saw Kosi slide over for his hattrick, the first hattrick against the Storm by a Warrior since Ken Maumalo last season. Unfortunately, their goal kicking was the only thing stopping the score-line from being closer than it should have.
As close as the Warriors were getting, their ill-discipline was killing them, a late shot from Euan Aitken saw Munster convert the penalty goal and Melbourne led by 12. There would be no change to the final score-line as Melbourne snap a four-game losing streak and retain the Michael Moore Cup. Melbourne has a tough run into the finals but showed they can toughen out a victory and stay in the race for a top 4 birth. New Zealand was far from disgraced with a courageous performance and can take a lot of confidence for the run home into the end of the season.