Manly Sea Eagles 22 (S Matai 2, C Blair, J Horo tries; J Lyon 3 goals)
Melbourne Storm 23 (S Waqa 2, K Bromwich, B Hampton tries; C Smith 3 goals, field goal)
This match delivered on all its pre-match hype. Melbourne Storm completed a stunning comeback at Brookvale Oval with a field goal in extra time from Cameron Smith in his club record-equalling game.
It was a tale of two halves as Manly dominated early with four tries in the half hour. A double to Steve Matai along with one each to Justin Horo and Cheyse Blair saw Manly race out to a 20-0 lead and at that stage, the result looked beyond doubt and it was a case of how many points will Manly win by.
But as this unpredictable sport never ceases to amaze, Sisa Waqa was on the end of a Cam Smith cross field bomb and the high-flying Fijian touched down in the right corner to subdue Manly’s momentum heading into half-time.
Waqa scored his second five minutes into the second half and when Manly’s fullback Brett Steward was unable to return after the half-time interval because of a hamstring injury, the match had a whole different complexion.
All of a sudden it was the Storm, funnily enough in stormy conditions, dominating possession, territory and creating several opportunities.
The penalty count also flipped dramatically with Storm getting six in a row at one stage. Manly captain Jamie Lyon even questioned the referee if he was trying to even up the count as Manly had the rub of the green in the opening half.
Young five-eighth Ben Hampton scored close to the uprights to allow Smith an easy conversion after missing two tough ones from the sideline earlier.
Four minutes later, a fourth Storm try was scored by Kenny Bromwich. Smith converted and scores were locked up at 20 apiece.
In the last 15 minutes, Smith and Lyon traded penalty goals and again it was tied up at 22-22.
A sense of déjà vu emerged as last year these teams also had a match go to extra time.
But unlike that occasion when they still couldn’t be separated after 10 additional minutes, Cam Smith got the go-ahead point in the 85th minute. And like a thief in the dark, the Storm pinched 2 valuable Premiership points.
Manly coach Geoff Toovey was mild-mannered after the match but still disappointed with the second half turnaround.
“When you lead by 20 points at Brookvale Oval you don’t lose from there. Obviously there was a massive change with flow of possession, I think they got the first five penalties and we sort of capitulated and made a lot of unforced errors. Silly mistakes by us. To be honest with you I thought we probably should have been up by a little bit more.”
This match will be remembered for an amazing comeback, all the more impressive since Cooper Cronk wasn’t playing. But skipper Cameron Smith stepped up in his absence.
He provided the clever cross field kicks and the winning field goal which in normal circumstances would have been Cronk’s responsibilities. Smith even joked after the match that it was his first field goal since the under 16s for Queensland side Logan Brothers.