The Melbourne Storm have inched closer to clinching the minor premiership by overcoming a slow start to defeat the Gold Coast Titans 24-8 at AAMI Park on Sunday afternoon.
It was billed as a David versus Goliath struggle with first taking on last in a huge mismatch on paper, but the Titans took it right up to their more fancied opponent early to take an 8-6 into half-time.
But the Storm responded after the break to pile on three unanswered tries to clinch their 18th victory of the season and regain their four-point advantage at the top of the Telstra Premiership ladder.
While it may not have been their most thorough performance of the season, Storm coach Craig Bellamy will at least be pleased with how his side responded after converting just 58% of their sets during a tight opening half.
The decision to rest halfback Brodie Croft, move Jahrome Hughes into the halves and Ryan Papenhuyzen to fullback paid dividends too, with Papenhuyzen scoring a try and running for a whopping 239 metres in an impressive individual effort.
The triumph means the Storm have booked a top two finish at the end of the season and a home match in the first week of the finals, while they can ensure they claim the minor premiership with a victory over the Sea Eagles next week.
Match: Storm v Titans
Round 23 -
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
- LIVE PASS
The victory might have come at a cost for the league leaders though, with returning centre Curtis Scott reported for a dangerous tackle on Phillip Sami during a see-sawing opening half. Mitch Rein was also placed on report for a lifting tackle.
The loss confirms what many have assumed for a while in that the Titans will finish on the bottom of the ladder and claim their first wooden spoon since 2011 and second since they joined the competition in 2007.
It was a case of deja vu for the Gold Coast side on Sunday as they showed glimpses of some good football, only to be let down by some flimsy defence and the inability to play a full 80 minutes.
They weren't helped by the fact they lost try-scorer Jesse Arthars to concussion prior to half-time following a dangerous tackle from Josh Addo-Carr, but the season can't end soon enough for Craig Hodges' men.
The Titans came out of the blocks firing, with Arthars out-leaping Addo-Carr to open the scoring as the visitors shocked the home crowd to lead 8-0 inside 15 minutes, including a penalty goal to open the scoring.
The visitors were pushing hard to increase their advantage, but the Storm hit back when Cameron Smith found Kenny Bromwich as the Storm drew back within two at half-time.
Whatever Bellamy said to his troops at the break had an immediate effect as the hosts looked like a different side during the second half as Papenhuyzen crashed over in the 43rd minute to give his side their first lead of the afternoon.
Jesse Bromwich found Dale Finucane shortly after for the Storm's third of the match, before Addo-Carr scored in the corner to complete the comeback victory.