The Sydney Roosters have served notice to the rest of the NRL that they are still the team to beat after producing a battling performance to beat Melbourne 24-12 at Allianz Stadium.
The defending premiers’ rise up the ladder has almost gone unnoticed after their sluggish start to the season, but they’ve peaked at precisely the right time.
They have moved up to second spot and can potentially win a second successive minor premiership with victory over competition leaders South Sydney on Thursday.
Craig Bellamy’s side were on top for most of the encounter thanks to two Billy Slater tries but the game turned in favour of the hosts 15 minutes from time when Mitchell Pearce scored following a rare mistake from Cameron Smith.
Despite the rainswept conditions both teams produced a finals-like match-up in front of a disappointing crowd of 13,879.
The Roosters opened the scoring when NSW winger Daniel Tupou timed his run perfectly to latch onto Jake Friend’s well-executed grubber kick after just four minutes.
But the Storm responded well and had the bulk of possession thanks to back-to-back penalties against the home side before Slater darted under the posts allowing Smith to level the game with a close range kick.
The Roosters’ defence held out the visitors despite some heavy pressure as the sides went into the break at 6-6.
A James Maloney penalty restored the Roosters’ lead early in the second period, but the NSW representative then coughed up the ball from the resulting kick-off and from the scrum Slater scampered over for his second.
With Cooper Cronk and Slater having a greater influence on the game, the Roosters were pegged back in their own half.
However, they got the break they so desperately needed when Smith threw an awful pass from a scrum that fell short of Sisa Waqa and Pearce picked up the loose ball to race to the line.
Boosted by that piece of good fortune, Trent Robinson’s side stepped up a gear.
They forced a third try when Storm prop Jesse Bromwich lost the ball and Aidan Guerra fell on a Maloney kick to score his fourth of the season.
That setback knocked the stuffing out of the Storm and Tupou scored his second late in the game to secure a 12-point victory.
Roosters coach Trent Robinson was full of praise for Pearce’s second-half performance but admitted his side needed all of their defensive qualities to stay in the game.
“I thought Cronk owned the first half but Pearcey owned the second,” Robinson said.
“We needed to match Cronk in his decision making and that comes down to halves and Pearcey stood up and had some good variety and control.
“It probably wasn’t our best performance in certain areas … it could have blown out in the first half with all their possession and we did well to go in at 6-6 at halftime.
“Our defence was OK in yardage but very good on our goal-line.”
Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy said the Storm dressing room was a sombre one and said his side were guilty of throwing away the two points.
“For most of the game we had a fair bit of control, not taking anything away from the Roosters, they hung in there and defended well,” Bellamy said.
“But we lost control of it through our own doing and that hurt us in the end.”