Sea Eagles 22 Storm 26
No biffs, no butts and no brawls. The only real similarity to Donnybrookvale was that Manly second-rower Glenn Stewart exited earlier than expected. This time a knee injury ended Stewart's night prematurely and his selection in State of Origin III will be in serious doubt.
The early diagnosis, a medial ligament strain, will make an appearance in the decider unlikely for Stewart, who left the field in the 37th minute and did not return. His left knee buckled awkwardly under Melbourne's Rory Kostjasyn, and after spending several minutes in agony on the turf, was assisted from the field.
Surrounded ... Daly Cherry-Evans is monstered by the Storm defence. Photo: Getty Images
Stewart faces between two weeks and a month on the sidelines, with the third Origin now 15 days away.
The next time the Sea Eagles are due to face Melbourne at Brookvale Oval, he might be wise to skip it. In last season's infamous encounter, he was involved in the sideline brawl with then Melbourne back-rower Adam Blair, which resulted in the pair being sent off. Stewart was suspended for three matches on that occasion; he might miss a similar amount of time after last night.
After the thuggery of last year, which was just shy of a bar fight, both teams would have been conscious of the need to let their football do the talking, knowing any indiscretions would be under the microscope.
Daly Cherry-Evans and Brett Stewart celebrate the fullback's first-half try. Photo: Getty Image
Melbourne's premiership credentials are in no doubt. They have been the better team out of the two so far this year, and their start and finish was true to that form. In between, the Sea Eagles were strong, but their lapses in the early and latter stages proved costly.
The Storm scored the first two tries; first centre Justin O'Neill's weaving run sent Todd Lowrie over, then Cameron Smith, starting at five-eighth with Gareth Widdop replacing Billy Slater at fullback, brushed off a poor attempted tackle from Anthony Watmough to score.
Manly, chided by their lacklustre start, then came at the Storm. Only the strength of Melbourne second-rower Ryan Hoffman prevented Brett Stewart from scoring as he held the prolific try-scorer up brilliantly.
Sea Eagles couldn't weather the Storm
The round 15 NRL match between the Manly Sea Eagles and the Melbourne Storm at Brookvale Oval on June 18, 2012 in Sydney, Australia. The Storm beat the Sea Eagles 26 - 22. Pictures by Mark Kolbe and Getty Images. Photo: Mark Kolbe
Yet despite being on hand five minutes later to knock the ball from halfback Daly Cherry-Evans's grasp, as the halfback struggled with defenders as well as the right-hand upright, video referee Paul Simpkins ruled that Hoffman had knocked on and the Manly No.7 was allowed a second chance to plant the ball.
Smith moved back to hooker, but with he and halfback Cooper Cronk backing up from a bruising State of Origin clash last Wednesday, there were always going to be doubts about their ability to go the distance. From a scrum, they were taken by surprise when Jamie Lyon grubbered and Stewart scored.
The Sea Eagles managed to put the loss of Stewart's older brother aside well enough for winger Jorge Taufua to score just before the break. The Sea Eagles were winning the battle, so to speak.
The Storm perked up, though. An unlikely source helped level the scores; after centre Dane Nielsen had grubbered speculatively, Bryan Norrie followed through and evoked the skills of Greg Dowling when he scooped up the ball to score.
The topsy-turvy nature of the encounter continued, Cronk's well-flighted kick found a leaping winger in Matt Duffie, who scored a try as spectacular as his front-row teammate's and one just as important.
With nine minutes remaining, Smith sealed it with a penalty goal after Lyon was ruled to have held back Hoffman.
MELBOURNE 26 (M Duffie T Lowrie B Norrie C Smith tries C Smith 5 goals bt MANLY 22 (D Cherry-Evans B Stewart J Taufua D Whare tries J Lyon 3 goals) at Brookvale Oval. Referees: Tony Archer, Jared Maxwell. Crowd: 12,106.