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The Melbourne Storm has returned to the top of the NRL ladder after they defeated a gallant Warriors outfit 20-14 in front of 22,153 fans at AAMI Park tonight.
The home side came from behind on four separate occasions in a classy performance from Craig Bellamy's men, who after the Dragons loss earlier today now sit outright leaders after eight rounds of the NRL season, setting up a mouth watering clash with the second placed Dragons next Sunday in Wollongong.
While the Storm wouldn't be happy with the number of unforced errors, however there were some outstanding performances from not only the ‘big 3' in Cronk, Smith and Slater but also the impact of young Kiwi behemoth Nelson Asofa-Solomona, who was outstanding for the men in purple, scoring with his first touch and exhibiting some ferocious defence against his New Zealand counterparts in a devastating display from the young forward.
The Warriors came into the match with question marks on their attitude in defence but that was quickly erased, with some bone rattling hits from the visitors, which demonstrated that they were here to play.
And it was the visitors who got on the board first, when halfback Shaun Johnson was given some quick ball on the right hand side, he then found centre Blake Ayshford, who drew and passed beautifully for winger David Fusitua who crashed over in the corner for the first try of the game. Johnson's conversion from the sideline hit the inside of the upright and went in for the Warriors to jump out to an early 6-0 lead.
Melbourne continued to build pressure on the Warriors, with the home side making three penalties in a row count, when giant interchange forward Nelson Asofa-Solomona charged into the Warriors defence close to the line to score under the posts. Cameron Smith added the extras and scores were locked up after 30 minutes.
A normally disciplined Storm were making some very uncustomary errors, with interchange prop Tim Glasby knocking on in the play the ball to give the Warriors a chance before the break. Asofa-Solomona was then penalised in front of the posts for going on with a tackle in the play the ball. Halfback Johnson then wanted to take the tap but was overruled from the sideline and he kicked the penalty to make it 8-6 to the Warriors.
Storm fullback Billy Slater then sliced through right on halftime, after a superb offload from Asofa-Solomona and Slater was taken down in a brilliant tackle from Warriors skipper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. The Storm then switched to the right when Warriors centre Ayshford was penalised for not getting onside as the Storm were on the attack. Smith elected to take the two points on offer as the siren sounded and it was 8 all at halftime.
The Warriors got off to the perfect start in the second half, with Fusitua scoring his second try of the night, in almost identical circumstances to his first. Halfback Johnson again ran to the line attracting defenders, this time finding Tuivasa-Sheck who put Fusitua over in the corner. Johnson missed the conversion, however the Warriors led 12-8 after only a few minutes in the second half.
The Storm's response was almost immediate, when likely Australian test centre Will Chambers scooted outside Warriors backrower Bodene Thompson to break the line, he found Cooper Cronk in support, who raced away to score a superb Melbourne try. Smith failed with the conversion and the scores were again level at 12 points all.
Dale Finucane then came up with a costly error, losing the ball in the play the ball close to the Storm line. The Storm then gave away yet another penalty in front of the posts and Shaun Johnson extended the Warriors lead by 14-12 after 51 minutes.
The Storm then began to grow in confidence in attack, with some superb offloads and support play which saw winger Sunilasi Vunivalu dragged down just metres from the tryline. Melbourne then immediately switched to the other side of the field when quick hands from Smith and Felise Kaufusi saw Cheyse Blair put Josh Addo-Carr over for a crucial try to again edge the home side in front by 16-14.
From there, Melbourne were in control and continued to turn the screws on the Warriors. They finally sealed the game when second rower Kaufusi crashed over with four minutes to go, with the Storm coming away winners by 20-14.
The Warriors despite the loss will be very pleased with the effort against the competition leaders, however will need to take their new found attitude in defence home to New Zealand with them, where they host the third placed Roosters at Mount Smart Stadium next Sunday.
The Melbourne Storm now travel to Wollongong, to face the St George Illawarra Dragons in a top of the table blockbuster also next Sunday.
Melbourne Storm 20 - Warriors 14
Venue: AAMI Park
Halftime Score: Melbourne Storm 8 Warriors 8
LeagueUnlimited.com Players of the Match:
3 points - Nelson Asofa-Solomona
2 points - Billy Slater
1 points - Shaun Johnson
MELBOURNE STORM (20)
Tries: Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Cooper Cronk, Josh Addo-Carr, Felise Kaufusi
Conversions: Cameron Smith (1/4)
Penalty Goals: Cameron Smith (1/1)
Tries: David Fusitua (2)
Conversions: Shaun Johnson (1/2)
Penalty Goals: Shaun Johnson (2/2)