Gen Next made their mark for Melbourne with Ryan Papenhuyzen, Harry Grant and Jahrome Hughes combining to steer the Storm to a gripping 20-4 win over the Sydney Roosters on Friday night.
The new “Big Three” — replacing retired Storm greats Billy Slater, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk — stood up at AAMI Park, where the side remain unbeaten this season.
Melbourne took a 4-0 lead into half-time after a hectic opening 40 minutes, with some brutal hits from both sides.
The Storm had 59 per cent of possession but were unable to break the Roosters’ defensive wall.
But the visitors’ were off in attack, only completing 11 of 20 sets, making 11 errors, while a 5-1 penalty count didn’t help their cause.
The much anticipated battle between superstar full-backs Papenhuyzen and James Tedesco looked to be over soon after it began with the Storm ace forced off after just four minutes for a HIA.
Papenhuyzen was crunched attempting to stop Josh Morris scoring and while the Roosters winger was deemed to have lost the ball, the Melbourne full-back left the field holding his left shoulder before having a concussion test.
But he passed to return to play after 20 minutes and immediately made an impact, kicking their first penalty goal after an earlier miss by Cameron Munster.
Roosters lock Victor Radley was in the thick of the action, sin-binned in the 13th minute and put on report for an alleged high shot on Munster and then in the final minute of the first half was penalised for stripping the ball, pushing the margin to four points.
The Storm’s weight of possession began to tell and Grant started to make serious ground with his darting runs from dummy-half.
He fired a pass to Hughes, who slipped through to score the first try of the night in the 49th minute.
Brandon Smith got in on the action at dummy-half and found Papenhuyzen on the fly and the lead was out to 14-0.
That soon became a match-winning 20 points when Grant dived across from dummy-half in the 67th minute.
Matt Ikuvalu got one back for the visitors in the final minute but there was little other joy from their trip south.
Ponga leads Knights to late victory over the Sharks
Cronulla’s wretched week suffered a heartbreaking end as a sick Kalyn Ponga took time out between bouts of vomiting to give Newcastle a 26-22 win over the Sharks.
Routinely down on his haunches in back play as he battled illness, Ponga bagged a double and set up two other tries with sensational offloads.
After the Sharks had worked their way back from 20-12 down late to lead 22-20, Ponga broke their hearts with a 77th-minute try to win the match.
Playing in just his 10th NRL game, Brodie Jones was brilliant as a makeshift centre as he scored one try, saved two and got a ball away for Ponga’s match-winner.
Taking a Blake Green kick that went backwards, Jones threw an offload for Tyson Frizell who flung the ball back for Ponga to charge onto it and score.
It was a cruel end for the Sharks, who had shown plenty of resilience given the axing of popular coach John Morris just three days earlier.
After Morris told them on Thursday he would continue to support them this season from afar, he would’ve been proud of their first effort under caretaker Josh Hannay.
They didn’t make a second-half error until the final two minutes chasing the match, while Will Kennedy was again great at fullback.
Chad Townsend also kicked what looked likely to be a match-winning sideline conversion in the 69th minute after a flying Mawene Hiroti effort in the corner.
Connor Tracey also starred filling in on the left wing as he scored another late try to put the Sharks back in the hunt, while Briton Nikora also looked dangerous and claimed a four-pointer.
But still, a sick and sorry Ponga proved too good.
He had the Knights’ first when he ran around onto a Mitchell Barnett ball, before the fullback laid on an offload for the second-rower to score minutes later.
Barnett’s try was a piece of work from Ponga, as he pushed through the line with power before getting the ball away late.
It still had nothing on his second-half effort to send Jones over.
Just as the Sharks looked as if they had the ascendancy after fighting back from to 14-12, he got a perfect ball back to the centre while falling in a Matt Moylan tackle.
It summed up the night for the Sharks, who also left with both Aiden Tolman (crusher) and Nikora (late contact) on report to go with the loss.