Melbourne have maintained their charge for the NRL minor premiership with a classy 26-10 win over the Sydney Roosters at AAMI Park.
The victory gives Melbourne the provisional competition lead, although previous front-runners Cronulla have the chance to go two points clear again on Sunday afternoon when they host Newcastle.
Melbourne scored two late tries, through Tohu Harris and Kevin Proctor, that boosted the margin but the Storm were pushed for much of the match by the Roosters despite their contrasting ladder positions.
The last time the teams met, back in round 14, the Storm delivered the Roosters’ worst loss of the season with a 46-0 shellacking.
But it took the visitors just four minutes to improve on that total with Blake Ferguson taking advantage of a kick ricocheting off Cameron Smith, which the fullback scooped up to score.
Melbourne hit back 10 minutes later with Dale Finucane running on to a Smith grubber into the in-goal and it was all square at 6-6.
The Storm skipper then used the ploy again, this time with Cooper Cronk taking the spoils for a 14-6 lead.
That was the margin until the 64th minute with the defence of both sides holding firm until Cronk found second-rower Proctor on the fly.
The Roosters had the last say with centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall able to ground a miracle ball in the dying minutes.
Compounding the misery for the Roosters, prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves limped off midway through the first half with a knee injury and failed to return.
Roosters coach Trent Robinson said while Waerea-Hargreaves’ injury wasn’t serious, he wouldn’t be available to face Brisbane at Allianz Stadium on Thursday, with only a five-day turnaround.
The Roosters also pushed the Sharks last round before going down and Robinson said their lack of polish was the difference between his team and the ladder leaders.
“There was a lot of effort and we were in the arm wrestle there in that second half but we lacked execution on the critical times in the game,” Robinson said.
“We’re sitting in a position that we don’t want to be but we don’t hold ourselves as a bottom dweller.
“We feel we’re a quality team and we want to play that way and I feel we’ve done that the last couple of weeks but the reason they’re up the top and we’re down the bottom is critical plays at critical times and we haven’t done that.”
Melbourne captain Cameron Smith praised his team’s ability to weather the early barrage from the Roosters.
“The most pleasing thing about our team this year is that whatever teams throw at us early, we seem to be able to take that punishment and come out the other side,” he said.
“The Roosters started with a lot of energy and intent, the way they carried the football but our defence was good and we just had to stick to that.”
He said the team wouldn’t be celebrating their ladder position.
“We know we’re in the top two and that’s nice, particularly with the finish we’ve got against some very good sides.
“It’s pleasing to be in the position we’re in, particularly getting through State of Origin.”