MELBOURNE gave milestone man Todd Lowrie a night to remember and Brisbane one to forget as they powered to a 34-10 victory at AAMI Park last night.
In his 50th game for the Storm and his 149th in the NRL following stints with Newcastle and Parramatta, Lowrie set Melbourne on the path to victory with two first-half tries. He then showed lightning reflexes to present Billy Slater with a try six minutes into the second half which kicked the Storm away to a 22-6 lead.
When Slater streaked 80 metres in the 57th minute for his second try - his 17th in 21 games against Brisbane - and winger Justin O'Neill sailed 85 metres down the touchline for an intercept try soon after, it was goodnight, thanks for coming.
The Broncos were forced to play out the last seven minutes of a physical clash with just 12 men after young forward David Hala, playing his first NRL game of the season, was stretchered off with a suspected dislocated knee cap. He was later taken to hospital. ''He's in a bit of trouble,'' Broncos coach Anthony Griffin said.
Brisbane rested Origin stars Justin Hodges, Sam Thaiday and Petero Civoniceva while Melbourne's big three of skipper Cameron Smith, halfback Cooper Cronk and Slater backed up, with Smith coming off the bench.
The NRL's top-of-the-table clash seemed to be going to script - at least for the first 35 minutes. Melbourne, however, put Brisbane under intense pressure in the final 10 minutes of the first half when they could quite easily have scored another three or four tries.
After video referee Steve Clark denied halfback Cronk a try in the 24th minute, the Storm seemed to go up a gear, much to the approval of the 13,000-strong crowd. Their surge coincided with Smith joining the action.
Slater should have scored untouched in the 31st minute but he couldn't reel in a pass from man-of-the-moment Lowrie who threw it a touch high.
Slater looked like scoring two minutes later before Brisbane centre Matt Gillett flew across field to make a classic cover tackle. A minute later Smith was held up over the line in a desperate tackle by Broncos half Peter Wallace. The Storm, though, were relentless, finally cracking Brisbane when Lowrie crossed for his second try, diving on a Cronk grubber kick in the 35th minute.
The Storm's Origin connection then combined beautifully - Slater and Cronk put centre Dane Nielsen across for Melbourne's third try for 16-6 half-time lead.
Griffin was bitterly disappointed by his side's performance. ''It was easily our worst performance of the year,'' he said. ''We were very poor. We didn't have any real ethic in anything we did in attack or defence and the opposition made us pay.''
Storm coach Craig Bellamy was ''delighted'' with his team's showing. ''It's the best we've played in a month,'' he said. ''I know we scored thirtysomething points but we defended well. Our performance was really good [considering] our three playmakers played Origin only 48 hours ago.''
Bellamy claimed to have been unaware the Storm were now three wins clear on top of the NRL table. ''There's still a long way to go,'' he said.
MELBOURNE 34 (T Lowrie 2 B Slater 2 W Chambers J O'Neill tries G Widdop 5 goals) bt BRISBANE 10 (J Reed B Te'o tries C Parker goal) at AAMI Park. Referee: Tony Archer, Gerard Sutton. Crowd: 13,200.