Melbourne have reached the summit of the Telstra Premiership for the first time this season with a workmanlike 12-6 win in Auckland, as the New Zealand Warriors continue to play home snakes and away ladders.
The premiers outlasted the Warriors two tries to one in Sunday's error-strewn Mt Smart Stadium arm wrestle to record their seventh straight win and 13th of the season, sneaking above St George Illawarra and South Sydney to lead on points differential.
The Warriors slipped a spot to eighth behind Brisbane on points differential and now sweat on their four-point buffer over the West Tigers six rounds out from the playoffs.
The loss was their fifth in nine home games and extended Melbourne's winning streak over the Warriors to six matches.
Worryingly for Stephen Kearney's men, they have won just one home game against top eight opponents, hardly inspiring as they contemplate September play for the first time since 2011.
Piggy-backing off sure play of hooker Cameron Smith and halfback Cameron Munster and a hard-working pack led by Felise Kaufusi, the Storm did just enough to carve out an 8-6 half-time lead.
Storm winger Suliasi Vunivalu butchered a chance to make it comfortable five minutes from full-time with the try-line begging but Smith's two second-half penalties, the first from under the sticks when Shaun Johnson sent a short line-dropout sailing over the sideline on the full, found no response from the Warriors.
With five-eighth Blake Green ruled out late with a rib injury, the hosts needed Johnson to step up but the little playmaker couldn't muster any of the magic that helped the Warriors record their first win over the Broncos in Brisbane in five years last Sunday.
The Warriors' best was interchange blockbuster Bunty Afoa, while Kata and Ken Maumalo produced powerful bursts, but Kearney needs to come up with a recipe for home success - and quickly.
Will Chambers dotted down in just the second minute, running onto a clever pop pass from Wellington-born Storm halfback Jahrome Hughes near halfway before turning Roger Tuivasa-Sheck inside out.
Match: Warriors v Storm
Round 19 -
Venue: Mt Smart Stadium
- LIVE PASS
Warriors fans must have feared a repeat of the 50-10 mauling in May at AAMI Park.
But Kearney's men retorted in style five minutes later when winger David Fusitu'a leapt to gather Shaun Johnson's cross-kick and guided an airborne bounce pass into the hands of centre Gerard Beale, who scored in the corner.
Johnson's sideline conversion, into the blinding (and fleeting) sunlight that had hampered Josh Addo-Carr in the aerial contest that led to the Warriors try, made it 6-4.
An arm-wrestle ensued with forced passes and handling errors hampering both sides, notably a spilled pass by Green's replacement Mason Lino with the try-line begging.
The Storm made the home side pay immediately afterwards, nabbing an 8-6 lead a minute from the break courtesy of Vunivalu when the big Melbourne winger beat Fusitu'a to Billy Slater's cross kick, pirouetted on re-entry to earth and then fended off Solomone Kata to score in the corner.
Kata had a try disallowed just after the interval but the Warriors were otherwise held at bay by sound Storm defence.
News & Notes:The Warriors have lost their past four home games and haven't beaten Melbourne in their past six meetings ... Storm coach Craig Bellamy has won six of seven against Warriors coach Stephen Kearney ... Melbourne have won six on the trot on the road ... They didn't win but at least the Warriors only gave up 12 points compared to the fifty they conceded when they were thrashed by the Storm on Anzac Day.