Melbourne put on a second half blitzkrieg against table-toppers St George Illawarra, downing them 52-30 in fourteen-try battle at AAMI Park tonight.
For the first 65 minutes of this contest, it resembled more a tennis match than rugby league. Storm would routinely go up a break before St George Illawarra broke back, forcing the game into a tiebreaker. That tiebreaker came in the form of one of rugby league's most decorated figures, Cameron Smith, showed the benefits of his representative retirement.
The evergreen hooker took the game by the scruff of the neck in the final 15 minutes. He was directly involved in the last three tries from Hughes, Blair and a blockbuster scrum play that sent Suliasi Vunivalu over for the cherry on top, a half century put on the ladder leaders.
Now the Dragons have to defy history to lift the trophy on the first Sunday in October. No team that has conceded 50 points in the NRL era, has gone on to become premiers. It was foreboding that it also happened at a venue, that it and it's predecessor Olympic Park, has seen the Dragons not taste victory since 1999.
In the first half, it looked like the Dragons missing six players to Origin, were going to bust that. Gareth Widdop directed traffic, produced a sublime bacline move for Mann's try then gave MacDonald enough space to add to his litany of superb finishes this season.
Added to that was the speed of Matt Dufty and the sheer power of Euan Aitken that tried to will the Dragons on. Another set play put young backrower Luciano Leilua over then Mann had completed a double, and looked they may get over the Storm.
Melbourne like the bully in the playground kept the Dragons at arms length all contest. With a jumbled backline, they looked to run hard, straight and it worked all night to get them points. That spirit was typified by a signature Ryan Hoffman run down the left sideline right on the half-time whistle, that gave the Storm a slender 22-18 lead.
Storm made their adjustments in the second half, angled most of their attack at the makeshift defensive pairing of Jason Nightingale and Darren Nicholls. It was through that right side that they blitzed 20 points in the final quarter of play and showed the dirt in the Storm breeding ground is still fertile with the talent coming through.
It was a costly night all round for the Saints. They lost Jacob Host early to injury, and the red-and-whites will have plenty of bumps and bruises added to losing their top position to South Sydney, on their bye week.