Cometh the hour, cometh the Mann
Melbourne Storm have defeated the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles in another nailbiting fixture at AAMI Park on Saturday night.
When a win seemed beyond Craig Bellamy's side with momentum against them, it was debutant Kurt Mann that was the hero of the night, capping off a solid individual performance with the game-winning try off the end of a Cooper Cronk kick.
Storm looked dangerous out of the blocks with an early penalty setting up the first attack of the game, but the Sea Eagles responded quickly and kept the home side in defence for the early stages of the game.
Back-to-back penalties gave Steve Matai an early chance to put the visitors in front, but it remained a deadlock after he failed to capitalise.
Manly had a second chance and came within inches of taking the lead after Peta Hiku broke the Storm line and took the Sea Eagles deep into attack, only to have Daly Cherry-Evans’ kick cleared out of play through the desperate defence of Sisa Waqa.
Both teams remained scoreless until the 27th minute, when the Sea Eagles were rewarded for their relentless pressure. Steve Matai and Young Tonumaipea clashed for a high ball, which then spilled over the line for Hiku to ground.
The on-field umpires called no try but referred upstairs to check for knock, but the decision was reversed to give the visitors the lead.
However, the home side were able to hit back after repeated penalties put Melbourne back on the front foot, and Slater pierced the Manly defence near the end of the half for his second try of the season.
The first half remained low scoring, with the two sides only separated by a late field goal from Manly five-eighth Jack Littlejohn to finish the half with a one point advantage.
Melbourne emerged into the second half with confidence, quickly applying the pressure on the visitors.
Ben Hampton looked to be in trouble when he was forced to backtrack on the fourth tackle, but a long pass to Slater allowed the Storm fullback to score. Captain Cameron Smith successfully converted the try, taking the lead 10-5.
Minutes later, the home side suffered a setback when Slater was placed on report and momentum shifted back towards the visitors. Manly captain Brett Stewart was then able to take advantage of a lapse in concentration in the Storm defence and produced a solo effort to score, reducing the margin to 10-9.
The Sea Eagles continued to apply the pressure, and reclaimed the lead through a stunning 55th minute try to Jorge Taufua on the wing; the resulting conversion leaving the Storm trailing by five points.
Play continued to go in favour of the Sea Eagles and they piled on a third consecutive try: this time it was Jamie Buhrer who split a gap through the Storm defenders and cruised over the line to put his side closer to victory.
The game reached a new intensity in the 72nd minute when Cronk managed to dive on the end of his own deflected kick, bringing Melbourne within three points with the help of a Smith conversion.
Confidence surged for the home side and the visitors found themselves desperately defending their lead. With just minutes to go, Cronk kicked a floating ball towards the wing that appeared to miss its mark: until Mann found the end of the ball and burst through the Manly ranks to score a memorable try.
A penalty against Storm with just under two minutes remaining gave the Sea Eagles a final chance to snatch the result, but the home defence held strong to the relief of the home crowd, securing a valuable win.
Melbourne Storm 22
Tries: Slater 2, Cronk, Mann
Goals: Smith 3
Manly Sea Eagles 19
Tries: Hiku, Stewart, Taufua, Buhrer
Goals: Littlejohn, Matai