The usually well oiled Melbourne Storm machine, are now looking at an elimination play-off against the Broncos in Brisbane in their NRL 2008 Finals campaign after they were bundled out 18-15 by a never say die New Zealand Warriors outfit today.
The Warriors ran in a final minute try to pivot Michael Witt to make history, the Storm now the first ever 8th placed team to beat the 1st placed NRL team.
The victory not only keeps the Warriors alive for 2008, they now have an advantage in Week 2, facing a match-up with the Sydney Roosters at Mt Smart next Friday night in a blockbuster affair.
In todays game, a close affair – it seemed as though the championship Melbourne side might get the late victory with pivot Greg Inglis potting a neat field goal with 10 minutes left on the clock. The late field goal and single point buffer did throw the Warriors tactics momentarily, but they refused to give in. In a game full of penalties, the Warriors were burned by two horrific calls that cost them dearly.
Early in the match, energetic Warriors hooker Ian Henderson was slapped deliberately in the head by Matt Geyer and quickly lashed out at the offending Storm veteran. But even after replays, match referee Jason Robinson awarded the penalty to the Storm – with many left scratching their heads and Geyer walking away with a smirk after being the intigator and attacking the head.
The Warriors weren’t offered the same favour when a similar play happened in the second half, again Matt Geyer was involved and this time NZ player Aiden Kirk lashed out at Geyer while in possession and was immediately pinged for the alleged foul. The call saw coach Ivan Cleary raise to his feet in disbelief and the forces conspired against the visitors – but they somehow hung in.
The NZ Warriors continued to throw the ball around in the final 10 minutes even though it cost them several mistakes, the seemingly perfect Storm side and some poor referee calls were still not enough to keep this Kiwi outfit at bay.
With plenty of twists and turns in the final minutes, it was a big bust by flanker Manu Vatuvei that gave the Warriors their chance. Setting off down the left wing, Vatuvei drew in several players and bumped off others, before position Michael Witt for a nice offload and sending the pivot in to score for the Kiwis from 40m out – the resulting try with a minute on the clock consigning the Storm to a first week defeat.
For some reason, pivot Witt was seemingly over excited about the try and took an eternity to touch the ball down. He began celebrating and dancing wildly before eventually grounding the ball only milli-seconds before Cameron Smith lunged to prevent the touchdown.
In a torrid, close affair the sides were locked at 8-8 at the break, the Warriors scoring right on half time and keeping their chances high. After plenty of possession, the Warriors initially didn’t look able to bust the strong Storm line defence.
The Storm have the ability, but their overall desire will be questioned after an early finals loss. Their ‘aura’ is certainly dropping after recent losses to the Knights and now NZ side.
The Warriors will also be boosted by the fact they won without firebrand Wade McKinnon, the classy fullback being well replaced by utility Lance Hohia.
NZ got on the board in the second half after Storm fullback Slater failed to clean up a Grant Rovelli kick into the in-goal, Slater getting to the ball first but swatting it into the arms of big Warriors flanker Manu Vatuvei pounced on it, the early second half try giving the Warriors a nice confidence booster and giving them some hope of an upset win.
Folau came close evening things up after a threatening Storm attacking play but he was tackled well by Vatuvei and grounded 1m short, the lanky Folau then reaching out but committing an obvious double movement.
But the dangerous Folau was attacking shortly after, the Warriors giving away a penalty and as so often happens – a try is the result. Folau bustling over from 5m out, getting the Storm back in the picture, but Smith missing the conversion allowing the Warriors to be ahead by 2 points.
The Warriors had their chances and peppered the Storm line several times but couldn’t break through, with their attack finally stopped after the controversial Aidan Kirk penalty call on Matt Geyer. The poor call would have killed off many teams, but amazingly the Warriors remained upbeat.
After a quiet game, Storm star Greg Inglis got into the action in a big way when he potted the 35m drop goal. In a sign of confidence, the Warriors refused several times to go for drop goals, instead hanging out for the 4 pointer to seal the win.
The move proving a smart one, with their second phase play late in the game giving them the chance they needed. Keeping the ball alive may have cost them in the errors department, but it forced the big Storm forwards to run for most of the match.
With minutes remaining, it was ‘diamonds or stones’ Manu Vatuvei who bust things open down the left wing and positioned Witt brilliantly for the final run to the line with a sublime offload.
The Warriors will now face the Roosters in New Zealand and the Storm must try and regroup to face the in-form Broncos in Brisbane. With the losers eliminated from the NRL Finals series.