Manly captain Jamie Lyon might have played his final NRL game after aggravating a hamstring injury.
Battling hamstring issues for most of the year, Lyon hurt it again in Friday’s captain’s run, preventing him playing in his side’s 38-18 loss on Saturday evening to Melbourne.
He is considered a long shot to play next week in the Sea Eagles’ final home game of the year.
“Unlikely mate, which is a massive shame for us. Whilst he’ll do everything he can to get there, it’s not looking great at this stage and he’s devastated, obviously,” coach Trent Barrett said after the defeat.
“That’s something we’ll have to manage and cross our fingers and toes that he can, because he’s been a wonderful, wonderful player for the club and we want to send him out on the right note.”
Lyon’s pre-match withdrawal was a huge blow to the Sea Eagles, who were powerless in stopping Storm winger Suliasi Vunivalu bagging four tries in 30 minutes to continue his remarkable rookie season.
Vunivalu has tallied 21 tries in just 16 games, equalling the rookie record set by former Storm star and eventual dual-international Israel Folau back in 2007.
But more importantly, the win guarantees Melbourne a home semi-final, and also keeps them on track for the minor premiership, moving three points ahead of Cronulla, who face South Sydney on Monday night.
“We knew that was the case tonight, but that certainly wasn’t a reason to go out there and play well,” coach Craig Bellamy said post-game.
“We’ve been a little bit off energy-wise the past two to three weeks, so that was our main aim tonight – to get everyone excited about playing together and go out there and perform well.”
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.
Vunivalu’s first try came when Cameron Munster darted a pass in the 10th minute, and then grabbed his second when he chased through a Cooper Cronk bomb that was inexplicably allowed to bounce 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 on the halftime siren.
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.