A historic four-try haul to rookie Suliasi Vunivalu has fired Melbourne to a testy 38-18 victory over Manly, keeping them on track to claim the NRL minor premiership.
Vunivalu’s 30-minute quartet on Saturday evening lifted his tally to 21 in just 16 games, equalling the rookie record set by former Storm star and eventual dual-code international Israel Folau back in 2007.
The win, the Storm’s seventh in their past eight games, consolidates their spot on top of the competition ladder, three points ahead of Cronulla, who face South Sydney on Monday night.
In front of a modest crowd of 8241 at Brookvale Oval – their second smallest of the season – the Sea Eagles simply had no answer to Vunivalu’s try-scoring potency as the Storm cruised to a 26-6 halftime lead.
However, as they have for most of the year, Manly refused to throw the towel in after the break, with another rookie Brad Parker completing a brace and Jorge Taufua crossing in his 100th NRL game.
Taufua’s 62nd-minute effort reduced the gap to 14 with just under 20 minutes remaining and, while tempers flared a number of times in the closing stages, the Storm held on to claim their 18th win of the year.
Melbourne prop Felise Kaufusi sealed victory with a try on fulltime, set up by Cooper Cronk’s 25th try assist of the year, the most of any player in the NRL.
Vunivalu became the first player to bag four in one half since former Sea Eagles winger David Williams did it in 2012, and just the sixth Storm player to achieve the feat.
His first came when Cameron Munster darted a pass in the 10th minute, and bagged his second when he chased through a Cronk bomb that neither Tom Trbojevic nor Jorge Taufua wanted a part of in the 26th minute.
The Fijian scored his third and fourth in the space of just two minutes, taking another long ball from Munster in the 38th minute before finishing off a Cronk banana kick to give the Storm a 20-point halftime lead.
While Vunivalu scored the tries, Munster, Cronk and Dale Finucane were also immense for the Storm, who were able to rest captain Cameron Smith for the final 10 minutes of the match.