In front of a socially scattered crowd at Suncorp Stadium, the Sunshine Coast-based Melbourne Storm took on the Sydney Roosters in yet another potential Grand Final preview. There were way too many handling errors for this game to be lauded like some of the recent clashes involving the Roosters, but the two teams still managed to produce a golden point extra time thriller won 27-25 by the Storm.
The early exchanges were tough and controlled, with hard-running and rib-rattling hits across the field. For the home team Melbourne, Brandon Smith took on the dummy-half role with veteran Cameron Smith standing at first receiver.
The first ten minutes flew by with plenty of ball movement and minimal mistakes. Then in the eleventh minute of the game, with the Storm coming out of their own 20 metres, a dropped ball was pounced on by Brett Morris. He fought off two defenders before somehow slipping a pass to Kyle Flanagan who crossed under the posts. Flanagan converted his own try to take the Roosters to an early 6-0 lead.
With the next possession, the Roosters made an error of their own with Flanagan and Joseph Manu getting in each other's way before spilling the ball. Josh Addo-Carr pounced on halfway and ran away uncontested to score. Cameron Smith converted and the scores were level.
Mistakes were creeping into the game from both teams, as fatigue and the fast nature of play started to take effect. Twenty minutes in the Roosters gained possession through a forced pass from Suliasi Vunivalu. In the ensuing play, the ball squirted loose, was ruled a knock-on by the Roosters, then overruled through a captain's challenge. From the Roosters' scrum, James Tedesco passed the ball over the sideline. It was a passage of play which typified the sloppiness which took some gloss off an otherwise fiercely contested half of football.
If Cameron Smith's play at halfback was perfectly serviceable, Brandon Smith at dummy-half wasn't Cameron Smith at dummy-half. With three minutes left before the break, a mistake from Brandon Smith led to the Roosters' second try.
A cross-field kick from Luke Keary found Daniel Tupou five metres out from the Storm line. Josh Morris ran around Tupou and took the pass before beating two Storm defenders to squirm over the line out wide. Flanagan nailed the conversion to take the halftime score to 12-6 in the reigning premiers' favour.
Early in the second half it was another mistake which would see the scores level again. Boyd Cordner, whilst being forced back in heavy defence on halfway, tried to slip a pass which was picked off by Brandon Smith. He found Jahrome Hughes who streaked away to score under the posts.
Four minutes later, with the Roosters throwing the ball about, Josh Morris had a turn at passing it to the advertising boards. It put the Storm back on the attack and Ryan Papenhuyzen nearly cut them open, before being caught with the ball on the last tackle. With the Roosters' next possession, Josh Morris dropped the ball cold on halfway.
When they did manage to hold onto the ball, the Roosters were able to work their way downfield through a Josh Morris half break. He slipped the ball to Tedesco, before the move was shut down by the Storm cover defence. The ball was spread to the right where quick hands saw Brett Morris cross out wide. Flanagan converted to put the Roosters up 18-12.
Rylie Jacks came on for the Storm for Brandon Smith and Cameron Smith moved back to his more familiar dummy-half role. Following another Roosters handling mistake on halfway and a couple of penalties, the Storm were on the attack again. Christian Welch stopped play to have his split forehead repaired, giving the Roosters vital breathing room. On the last tackle Hughes put up an ineffective kick which was defused by Tupou for a seven tackle restart. Two tackles later the Roosters dropped the ball yet again. If their handling was appalling, their defence was outstanding.
From a Storm kick deep into Roosters territory, Tedesco passed to Brett Morris who made a weaving run, giving the Roosters plenty of momentum out of their own 20 metres. Tedesco followed that up with a break of his own, before the ball was spread to Keary who kept the defence guessing with a run that committed Addo-Carr. The pass to Josh Morris was perfectly timed and he was able to get the ball down in the corner. Flanagan missed the conversion, but the Roosters held what looked like a comfortable 22-12 lead.
The Storm tried a short kick off and the Roosters were penalized for interfering with the chasers. A couple of tackles later, Hughes stepped off his right foot twice to cross untouched. The try was converted to take the score to 22-18 in the Roosters' favour.
From the kick-off the Storm worked their way downfield and a Jacks' bomb was spilled by Tupou. The ball fell to Hughes who passed it out to Paul Momirovski who beat a couple of defenders to level the scores at 22. From near the sideline, Cameron Smith's conversion skimmed the upright to give the Storm an unlikely two-point lead.
A penalty with three minutes remaining gave Flanagan a chance to keep the Roosters in the game. He confidently stepped up from a difficult angle 30 metres out and levelled the scores at 24.
From the kick-off the Roosters worked their way downfield, Tedesco instrumental again in gaining vital metres through the Storm defence. Jake Friend fired a pass back to Keary and he kicked a field goal to retake the lead with a little over two minutes left on the clock.
The Storm took another short kick off and regained possession. They worked their way towards the posts with only seconds remaining before the ball was fired to Papenhuyzen who kicked the score-levelling field goal. The game was going to golden point extra time.
In the first half of extra time, Boyd Cordner's head was slammed into the turf. He rose to his feet and played the ball sloppily resulting in a Storm scrum on the Roosters 30 metre line. They sent their forwards up the middle before the referee penalised Friend for shoving Dale Finucane as he rose to his feet to play the ball. Part-time halfback Cameron Smith kicked the two points from right in front.
A game which was marred by poor handling still managed to produce a grandstand finish, with neither team willing to concede the two competition points. The Roosters were forced into way too much defence through their own errors and when it really mattered they simply ran out of steam.