Melbourne Storm have opened up the biggest lead of the season atop the NRL ladder after edging the Sydney Roosters 14-12 in a tense grand final rematch.
Both teams scored two tries apiece on Friday night at Adelaide Oval, however it was the boot of Cameron Smith that proved the difference.
The Storm captain was a perfect three goals from as many attempts, while Roosters centre Latrell Mitchell nailed two of his three looks at goal.
The axed NSW State of Origin star almost set up what would have been the game-winner for Brett Morris, but he was denied by four cover defenders.
Roosters captain Boyd Cordner also came close to stealing the game at the death but failed to cleanly take a Cooper Cronk bomb, which had been allowed to bounce by the Storm.
The gritty victory not only extends Melbourne’s winning streak to six, but lifts it six points clear of both the Roosters and South Sydney.
The last team to hold a six-point lead after 15 rounds was the Storm in 2012, and they went on to claim the premiership against Canterbury.
It was also the fourth time in their past five clashes that the game was decided by three points or less, including a one-point thriller earlier this year.
And the crowd of 16,297 witnessed another closely fought battle.
All eyes were on Mitchell, who was making his first appearance since being controversially dropped after Origin I.
But Storm youngster Ryan Papenhuyzen stole the show with arguably the best performance of the night, making a game-high 224 metres and scoring a try.
He was closely followed by Blues star Dale Finucane and his 171 metres.
Eight changes were made to the Roosters’ line-up before kickoff, but they started strongly and took an early lead through a penalty goal.
Not even a long-range try to Papenhuyzen in the 17th minute halted their momentum, with Daniel Tupou and Joseph Manu crossing for a two-try lead.
However, the Storm ensured scores were locked at 12-12 at the break when Brodie Croft pounced on his own grubber moments before halftime.
Little separated the two sides thereafter, with the Roosters defending their line stoutly despite giving up cheap possession in their own territory.
It wasn’t until Smith drew a penalty in front of the sticks in the 64th minute that the deadlock was broken with the ensuing goal.
Melbourne thought it had kicked away when Justin Olam crossed soon after, only to be denied by a rare ruling by the officials.
A clever Cameron Munster chip was ruled to have been deliberately tapped over the head of Matt Ikuvalu by Josh Addo-Carr.