The Storm just got home against the Roosters in an exciting top of the table clash, while the Panthers defeated an injury-hit Cowboys and the Dragons thrashed the struggling Titans.
Storm edge out Roosters in feisty thriller
Joe Stimson (C) is hugged by Cameron Smith after scoring the Storm’s match-winning try. (AAP: Joe Castro)
Melbourne has snatched a 16-13 win over the Sydney Roosters at AAMI Park in an enthralling and at times bizarre top-of-the table clash to maintain its firm hold on the minor premiership.
The competition-leading Storm kept their four-point buffer, needing just one more win from their remaining three matches to secure the JJ Giltinan Shield.
Second rower Joe Stimson, in his debut NRL season, was the man of the moment, scoring in the 77th minute for his team to regain the match-winning lead amid steady rain.
The Roosters hit the front for the first time in the match four minutes earlier thanks to a Luke Keary field goal.
But in typical Storm fashion, the match was far from over.
Cooper Cronk attempted a field goal that was charged down by Connor Watson but Stimson could not be stopped close to the line in the ensuing play.
It was a fitting end to a pulsating contest, punctuated by a number of heated clashes, as well as concerns for Roosters star Blake Ferguson when he fell awkwardly following an acrobatic kick reception in the first half.
The Roosters proved their own worst enemy in the first half, on the wrong end of a 9-3 penalty count which had them trailing 10-6.
Melbourne’s lead was out to 12-6 until the 61st match when Roosters centre Latrell Mitchell slotted a superb conversion of Mitch Aubusson’s sideline try that levelled the score at 12-12.
That opportunity came when Storm winger Suliasi Vunivalu took a kick and then attempted to hurdle two Roosters players, giving away a penalty and ending up on report.
Vunivalu was also involved in a contentious refereeing decision in the first half when the bunker awarded the Storm a penalty try, ruling that Vunivalu had been taken out by Mitchell in the race to the tryline.
Keary broke the deadlock with his first NRL career field-goal but the Storm would not be denied.
Panthers power past gutsy Cowboys
Penrith has cemented its position inside the top eight with a Nathan Cleary-inspired 24-16 win over an injury-hit North Queensland.
Cleary came up with one of the try savers of the year at Penrith Stadium and scored two decisive second-half tries to lead his side to victory over a gutsy Cowboys outfit.
The Cowboys, already missing Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott, Gavin Cooper, Antonio Winterstein and Te Maire Martin, were struck two massive blows when they lost Michael Morgan and Justin O’Neill to injury.
It is feared O’Neill’s season is over after he dislocated his elbow, while half-back Morgan did not return in the second half after suffering a concussion.
The Cowboys were brave, playing the entire second stanza with two men on the bench while full-back Lachlan Coote seemed to be playing with an ankle injury.
After taking a 10-6 lead into half-time, the Cowboys extended their advantage when John Asiata threw a short ball for Jason Taumalolo to get over.
Cleary saved what would have been a decisive try when he held up Cowboys big man Coen Hess.
The Cowboys simply ran out of gas with Cleary scoring twice in the last 30 minutes to give his side a valuable two points which jumps them into sixth.
First he latched onto a clever Tyrone Peachey kick and after James Tamou crashed over against his old club, the teenage half-back delivered the coup de grace in the 70th minute for his side’s sixth win in a row.
It was the Cowboys’ third consecutive loss and puts them in danger of missing the finals.
Dragons stay in finals race with thrashing of Titans
St George Illawarra has revived its finals hopes with a desperately needed 42-16 victory over the embattled Gold Coast Titans at Kogarah Jubilee Oval.
With their season on the line, the Dragons hauled themselves back into the top eight with a seven tries to three triumph.
Try scoring doubles from winger Jason Nightingale, playmaker Kurt Mann and impressive hooker Cameron McInnes and a further four-pointer to Joel Thompson earned the one-time competition leaders just their third win in nine starts.
Gold Coast’s fourth-straight defeat has piled yet more pressure on beleaguered coach Neil Henry, while another lacklustre Jarryd Hayne display is certain to add to speculation around the code hopper’s future at the Titans.
While the Dragons live to fight another day, coach Paul McGregor will be less than impressed with his side leaking three soft second-half tries after taking a commanding 22-0 lead into the break.
The Titans’ scoreless first term meant they had gone without a point for three consecutive halves, following last weekend’s 54-0 drubbing at the hands of the Brisbane Broncos.
In ending a two-match losing run, St George Illawarra temporarily climbed above Penrith into eighth spot on points differential, ahead of the Panthers hosting North Queensland.
The Dragons next head to Brisbane on Friday night for a gruelling clash with the Broncos before taking on Penrith in a potentially decisive round 25 showdown.
They finish the home-and-away season with another must-win contest against Canterbury.