Melbourne 24 Gold Coast 16
Wrong man ... Billy Slater of the Storm runs in for a try as the referee is tackled. Photo: Getty Images
THE Melbourne Storm made history last night and it had nothing to do with their 24-16 win over Gold Coast at AAMI Park.
The story of the night was the unveiling of the Storm's first true-blue Victorian talent as Mahe Fonua played his first NRL game.
Former Storm players Jeremy Smith and Jake Webster spent part of their childhood in Melbourne but both received their rugby league grounding in the code's heartlands.
Fonua has come up through the local ranks, playing in the under-age Victorian teams and the Storm's academy system and under-20s.
Storm coach Craig Bellamy said Fonua's presence had been a great moment for the club. ''It was a fantastic night for the club to have a Melbourne born and bred rugby league player play first grade for the Storm,'' said Bellamy, who admitted he had misled media by denying Fonua would play last night because the youngster told him he did not want the pressure.
The Storm's performance in the first half bore little resemblance to the team that steamrolled a poor Penrith 46-6 last week but revived memories of the form slump in which they lost six from seven games.
Teammates comforted Fonua after he fumbled the ball in the first half and his confidence appeared to grow. However, it did not take long for the Titans to begin targeting the new left winger, exposing his inexperience.
The Titans scored their first try when Fonua was drawn infield in defence. A neat cut-out pass by David Mead gave Michaels an easy run to the tryline to score.
Although the damage was limited when Scott Prince missed the sideline conversion attempt, Fonua dropped a straightforward pass from Billy Slater.
The Titans then zeroed in on Fonua, again kicking to his wing. The teenager went up AFL style with hands high and Michaels swatted the ball from his grasp.
Ridge scored his first NRL try from the next set, barging through thin defence close to the line. Prince made the conversion and in what is becoming a familiar scenario, the Storm were chasing a large deficit as the Titans went into half-time 10-0 ahead.
An Olympic-scale Bellamy bollocking made all the difference in the second half. ''I lost my cool a bit at half-time,'' Bellamy said. ''There were a couple of things we obviously we didn't learn from last week. The Gold Coast were out-muscling us, they were out-working us, they were out-enthusing us, but to their credit Cameron [Smith] got the boys together and sorted it out.''
Fonua overcome his shaky first half to be denied two tries in the second. The first was ruled out due to a forward pass and desperate Titans defence blocked the other. Fonua also took an impressive AFL-style hands-up take of a Titans bomb that would have looked at home on the MCG.
Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk scored tries within the first six minutes of the break to take a 12-10 lead. Tries to Ryan Hoffman in the 60th minute and then Gareth Widdop in the 75th ended the Titans charge.
Melbourne looked back to their best when Slater sliced through the Titans defence to score although Gold Coast players complained that one of the referees got in the way of the defence.
Smith converted and then moments later set up the next try when he caught out the dummy-half defenders and sent Widdop free with a flick pass. Cronk followed up and from the tackle ran through the disorganised defence to score and with Smith's conversion give the Storm a 12-10 lead.
Hoffman scored the Storm's third try after 60 minutes which with Smith's conversion gave Melbourne a seemingly match-winning 18-10 lead. A try to Mead after 70 minutes gave the Titans a late chance until the Widdop try.
The Titans will leave Melbourne with a heavy injury toll. Luke Bailey blew an Achilles tendon and Ashley Harrison injured a glute in warm-up and played only part of the game.
MELBOURNE 24 (C Cronk R Hoffman B Slater G Widdop tries C Smith 4 goals) bt GOLD COAST 16 (D Mead S Michaels B Ridge tries S Prince 2 goals) at AAMI Park. Referees: Shayne Hayne, Alan Shortall. Crowd: 9108