Storm 32 Warriors 14
Knows his way to the line ... Will Chambers dives over for one of his three tries. Photo: Getty Images
It had been an Anzac Day to savour. One that provided the type of breathless contests that prompt unfortunate comparisons between football and real battle.
St George Illawarra crawling off the canvas at Allianz Stadium to beat the Roosters with a last-gasp try. The toe of a flailing boot restoring Collingwood's lead in the dying seconds against Essendon at the MCG.
Two engrossing dramas played out before near-full houses. Perhaps, for the politically minded, a demonstration to those who scheme to create a dominant national code that, in Sydney and Melbourne, the people seem pretty happy with what they have.
Anzac night - and the only trans-Tasman contest? The final leg of wonderful trifecta. A 32-14 victory for the Storm, a margin inflated by three late Melbourne tries that meant the scoreboard left a misleading impression of the contest. A tough, engrossing match between two genuine contenders that could well be reprised in September.
For the Storm and Warriors, following the afternoon classics was a bit like walking on stage after the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Perhaps fitting in that context, after a day of great escapes, the only comeback story at AAMI Park would belong to Storm fan Molly Meldrum, who had recovered sufficiently from his serious tumble to watch the match in a corporate box.
The music guru witnessed the type of battle in which a single glaring mistake proved as conclusive as any of the moments of magic. That vital error came 55 minutes into the second half, with the scores locked at 10-10. Warriors centre Krisnan Inu, deputising for fullback Kevin Locke, who had left the field with an injured sternum, gathered the ball 10 metres from his line. Yet, somehow as Inu broke into stride, the ball dribbled from his hand.
From the next set, Storm winger Justin O'Neill scored in the corner. It was not the decisive moment. Bill Tupou would put the Warriors level again after pouncing upon a brilliant grubber by halfback Pita Godinet - a late replacement for the injured Shaun Johnson. Yet, in a season when the Storm have made a habit of absorbing their opposition's best before putting them to the sword, Melbourne would romp home in the last 15 minutes and become the first team since 1996 to win their first eight games.
Their lead was recaptured courtesy of a line that is becoming as familiar as ''caught Marsh, bowled Lillee''. Cameron Smith to Cooper Cronk to Billy Slater. This time, centre Will Chambers was the lucky recipient of that superstar trio's clean hands, scoring his second try. Then, to ice the Storm victory, Chambers completed his hat-trick, Dane Nielsen scored his second, and the hopes of a third thrilling Anzac Day finish were buried beneath a purple avalanche.
The word revenge is often used incorrectly to describe a minor round victory by a team previously beaten in a much more important battle. Still, if last night's victory will not erase the memory of the Storm's bitterly disappointing preliminary final capitulation to the Warriors last year, it will have been satisfying nonetheless. As much because it was achieved over one of the few teams that looks likely to challenge the Storm at the end of this season.
What's more, the Warriors are perhaps the only visiting team that feels more at home in Melbourne than Queensland. Indeed, given Melbourne's big expat Kiwi following, there seemed to be more people in the crowd singing the New Zealand national anthem than the Australian, and the Warriors settled in nicely when Tupou scored the first try.
So the Storm were naturally delighted with how they saw off a serious threat, and ran out the game. ''I was always confident we would win the game, and I don't always feel that confident,'' Storm coach Craig Bellamy said. ''But at 14-all, anything could have happened.''
For the Warriors, losing Johnson before the game, and Locke in the first half, proved telling blows. ''It doesn't help, does it?'' Warriors coach Brian McClennan said. ''Turn it around and would it make a difference if their No.1 and No.7 came out? But that's part and parcel of the game. You deal with injuries.''
Melbourne's victory might not have been so thrilling as those of St George Illawarra and Collingwood. However, it brought a fitting end to an Anzac Day when, for once, the performances on the field matched the hype and rhetoric that can overwhelm the occasion.
MELBOURNE 32 (W Chambers 3 D Nielsen 2 J O'Neill tries C Smith 4 goals) bt WARRIORS 14 (B Tupou 2 L Brown tries J Maloney goal) at AAMI Park. Referee: Tony Archer, Chris James. Crowd: 20,333.