The iSelect Titans have gone down to the Melbourne Storm 24-20 at Cbus Super Stadium after fighting back from 10-0 without halfback Beau Henry who was forced off early in the game.
It was their fifth straight loss but with five key players missing and circumstance where Brad Takairangi, regularly a centre who started in the second row, having to fill in next to Maurice Blair in the halves, they competed well.
In the end it boiled down to some one-on-one missed tackles in both halves leading to Storm tries.
“It was a game I thought was in our control,” lamented coach John Cartwright. “It was just a couple of one on one missed tackles and they made us pay for it.
“It was a bit of a shame, I thought we competed well in most areas of the game to come back from 10-0 and I thought we had the game in our keeping in the second half but a couple of late tries was enough.
“We scored enough points to win the game but it came down to a few one on one missed tackles from guys you wouldn’t expect to do that.”
The positive features of the night were eye catching debuts by James Roberts, who scored an outstanding individual try in his first game for the club, and Caleb Binge his NRL debut.
Mark Minichiello was a constant handful for the Storm defence and Blair, cast into the major playmaker role when Henry was taken off with a knee injury after only eight minutes, was superb with his kicking game and general direction. Luke Bailey made 185 metres and 389 tackles in a tireless effort and hooker Beau Fallon was dangerous from dummy half and faultless in defence. Ben Ridge topped the tackle count with 42.
Our boys showed plenty of character in the first half to come back from 10-0 with two players off injured and level the scores 10-all at half-time.
Henry went down after being ankle tapped after a 50 metre run down the left touchline after recovering a Storm bomb into the in-goal. He was to be a key part of our attack with his kicking and passing game and it put extra pressure on five-eighth Blair and he responded brilliantly.
The Storm scored soon after through Roberts who slipped through the line from 25 metres, converting from under the posts.
In the 19th minute the Storm were in again after a great deal of luck. Roberts’ kick took a rebound off Titans’ legs and bounced up straight back to a Storm player and Will Chambers was put away in the right corner for Melbourne to lead 10-0.
Soon after Ashley Harrison was another casualty when he went off with a shoulder injury, so everything seemed to be going against us early. He bravely returned to the field midway through the seconf half.
But Blair put on two tries with pinpoint grubbers into the Storm in-goal to level the scores at 10-all. The first was scored by Brad Tighe who pounced on the ball after the Storm fumbled in-goal. Kevin Gordon converted.
Gordon took advantage of another Blair kick to the same left side, this time getting a very fortunate bounce that went over the head of two Titans players and he picked up just inside the dead-ball line. Gordon failed with the conversion for 10-all.
A penalty goal to Gordon saw the Titans take the lead for the first time four minutes into the second half but the lead did not last long when Chambers went in for his second try after shrugging off a tackle close to the line.
Again the Titans were able to regain the lead, this time through a piece of brilliance by newcomer James Roberts. After a good offload by Luke Bailey 10m from the Storm line, Roberts shook off his opposite Fonua and slipped inside Waqa to score on debut for the Titans. Gordon’s conversion hit the right upright; Titans led 14-12 after 15 minutes of the second half.
But Melbourne scored the next two tries through Hampton, after a bust by Melbourne’s best player, the powerful Jessie Bromwich and then by Mann who beat a despairing dive by Harrison close to the line to lead 24-16 with five minutes to go.
However, the Titans pulled it back to 24-20 when William Zillman chipped over to the left corner and Gordon brilliantly forced the ball centimetres inside the dead-ball line, to set up a grandstand finish. His conversion just missed to the left.
It looked like the home side would get one last golden scoring chance with 90 seconds to go when another great bomb from Blair was spilled by Mann but referee Brett Suttor ruled that Matt White was the one chaser offside. Melbourne kept possession to hold on for a heart-stopping victory.
Considering the disruption with the side’s front line halves Aidan Sezer and Albert Kelly missing, and three State of Origin forwards in co-captains Greg Bird and Nate Myles, and Dave Taylor, and Henry being replaced, the attack was impressive for most of the match.
“I thought our attack was really good tonight, we spoke about being composed and we had Brad Takairangi at half for a while when Ash Harrison went off, it was probably a few key errors and one on one tackles that saw us chasing a big target,” said skipper Zillman appropriately.
STORM 24 (Chambers 2, Roberts, Hampton, Mann tries; Roberts 2 goals) beat Titans 20 (Gordon 2, Tighe, Roberts tries; Gordon 2 goals). Crowd: 6497.