The Storm consolidated second spot with a tough 30-6 win over the Sea Eagles but it came at a cost with a suspected ACL rupture to centre Marion Seve and calf injury to prop Nelson Asofa-Solomona.
Melbourne welcomed back Cameron Smith (shoulder), Cameron Munster (knee) and Jahrome Hughes (groin) while Brandon Smith (broken jaw) patrolled the sidelines at Sunshine Coast Stadium as a ball boy.
PNG international Justin Olam scored a hat-trick for the Storm, prop Jesse Bromwich was enormous up front while fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen had three try assists in another stellar display.
The win was the 16th in a row for the Storm in Queensland at all venues while the loss all but finished Manly’s already slim chances of playing in the finals with now a major miracle required for Des Hasler’s side after they fell six points behind eighth-placed Cronulla with four rounds remaining.
Match: Storm v Sea Eagles
Round 16 -
Venue: Sunshine Coast Stadium, Sunshine Coast
Seve made an early line break and was pummelled by Tevita Funa and appeared to suffer some kind of a knee injury. Minutes later fell to the ground with no-one around him clutching his knee.
"It looks like Marion has done an ACL. That was pretty early in the game when he made the break and went to step the fullback, Storm coach Craig Bellamy said.
"He buckled it and then a couple of minutes later fell on the ground and that is typical of an ACL."
Match Highlights: Storm v Sea Eagles
The Storm opened the scoring when Papenhuyzen put Olam over out wide before Manly's tried and true -row firm sprang in action with Martin Taupau turning playmaker to put Addin Fonua-Blake in under the sticks.
A piece of Smith genius was at the core of the next try. On the second tackle there was a nod in Josh Addo-Carr’s direction as Smith unfurled a 60-metre kick which bobbled to within a metre of the Manly line.
Smith then won a captain’s challenge and from the ensuing scrum it was another Papenhuyzen pass on the inside to a rampaging Asofa-Solomona that did the business as Melbourne took a 14-6 lead in the 25th minute.
Papenhuyzen was at it again after the break with a cut-out pass to Addo-Carr who found Olam to make it 18-6.
The fullback again put Addo-Carr away down the left touchline and supported him superbly before offloading to Olam to score his third. Addo-Carr raced away on full-time to complete the victory.
Storm prop Christian Welch was put on report for dangerous contact to Curtis Sironen early in the match.
Manly debuted Albert Hopoate, son of John Hopoate, in the centres while the Storm blooded Fijian international Isaac Lumelume on the wing.
"He [Lumelume] did a terrific job I thought. He had a couple of games earlier – a game of sevens and a game of tens – so to come out and play like that was a big effort," Bellamy said.
"He was really aggressive with his running and is following in the footsteps of Fijian wingers that have played for our club."
Smith, returning from a three-week lay-off from an AC joint injury, spoke before the game about his 2021 playing future and told Fox Sports that he would like to make a decision "as soon as I can".
"There are still a lot of things I need to think about. I guess being on the sidelines for the last few weeks has made it a little bit harder," Smith said.
Perfection off the boot from Smith and Addo-Carr does the rest
"I feel good and fresh for the three weeks off, but I would like to make a decision both for myself and the Storm moving forward."
The Storm have also been without Dale Finucane and Kenny Bromwich, with calf injuries, but received great service from bench forwards Chris Lewis (88 metres and 29 tackles) and Darryn Schonig (130 metres and 22 tackles) against Manly.
"Darryn and Chris played with the [Sunshine Coast] Falcons here the last couple of years and that was their first [NRL] game at this ground," Bellamy said.
"So it was great for them to do that. They are both really good mates and they both did a tremendous job."
Meanwhile Papenhuyzen is on track to make his NSW Blues debut this year.
"He is a wonderful player, Paps. Brad Fittler has been talking about Paps being on the bench for the Origin side and I don’t think he would be out of place," Bellamy said.
"He is a tough kid and can play in a few different positions. Obviously he is not going to put Tedseco out, but besides scoring tries with his pace he can set them up as well and he is getting better and better at that."