The Manly Warringah Sea Eagles have succumb to a resurgent Melbourne Storm outfit to go down in golden point extra time in their season opener at Brookvale Oval.
After taking a 16-point lead into the half time break, a second half lapse from the Sea Eagles allowed their archrivals to claim a memorable victory away from home.
The Storm overpowered their opposition in a one-way second half, which ultimately took the match into golden point.
Storm captain Cameron Smith secured victory with an 85th minute field goal, and in more concerning news for the Sea Eagles, fullback Brett Stewart was unable to take part in the second half with injury.
It was the perfect start to an almost flawless first half. The Sea Eagles took just four minutes to get on the board as fullback Stewart provided the final pass to centre Steve Matai.
It was as if the Sea Eagles hadn’t missed a beat over the long off-season. The speed in which they moved the ball was simply too hard to contain for the opposition as the Sea Eagles found success again, only this time down the right edge through debutant Cheyse Blair.
Their plan? Evident. Attack the Melbourne edge defence. It was all too easy for the home side, scoring again through Justin Horo as he pounced on a grubber kick from fullback Stewart to extend the lead beyond two converted tries.
But they weren’t finished there. In almost identical fashion to the Sea Eagles’ first four-pointer, Stewart put Matai across for his second inside half an hour.
At 20-0, the home side was beginning to embarrass their traditional rivals. But Melbourne managed to hit back through winger Sisa Waqa as the Sea Eagles took a commanding 20-4 lead into the break.
If there was a chance of an unlikely come back, the Storm had to be first to score in the second half.
They were able to do so through Waqa, who crossed for his second of the evening, before five-eighth Ben Hampton darted his way over shortly after to have his side back within six points.
Without their number one playmaker in Cooper Cronk, replacement Ben Roberts played a pivotal role in the Storm’s next try.
The former Bulldog and Eel went to the air before a flying Billy Slater tapped the ball backwards for Kenny Bromwich to dive under the sticks.
With all the momentum and field possession, the Storm were gifted the chance to shoot for goal when prop forward Josh Starling was deemed to have taken the legs from under Hampton as he went to kick the ball.
But after striking the ball at 50 per cent for the match, captain Cameron Smith swung the ball to the left of the posts.
However, just moments later, Smith was handed another opportunity and he was able to put his side in front for the first time in the match.
The Sea Eagles were in unfamiliar territory as they found themselves behind with 14 minutes remaining. But the home side’s competitive nature kicked into gear as they pushed for the match-winning try.
It wasn’t quite the match winner, but Jamie Lyon put his side level with seven minutes remaining after hooker Matt Ballin was close-lined in front of the sticks.
A simple conversion meant that the two sides would contest in their second golden point match in the space of 12 months.
After receiving the ball from the restart, the Sea Eagles made their way down the field, and just as they shaped to allow Cherry-Evans to take a shot at goal, the home side attacked Melbourne’s left edge defence, with Blair coming within an inch of the line.
The Storm made one last effort to work their way up the field, before Smith slotted the field-goal from right in front of the sticks.
SEA EAGLES: 22 (Tries: Steve Matai 4m, Cheyse Blair 13m, Justin Horo 21m, Steve Matai 29m Goals: Lyon 3/5)
STORM: 23 (Sisa Waqa 33m, Sisa Waqa 46m, Ben Hampton 52m, Kenny Bromwich 55m, goals: Smith 3/5, field goals: Smith 85m)