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Hughes stars as Melbourne weather Brisbane storm to kick clear of improving Broncos

Brisbane showed they are not pretenders for the top four but genuine contenders, however Melbourne’s class proved the difference at AAMI Park on Friday night.

The Broncos went into the clash with a 9-4 record on the back of a seven-game winning streak but without skipper Adam Reynolds but held their own for most of the contest against the Storm before the home side kicked clear in the second half to win 32-20.

Melbourne were again without Ryan Papenhuyzen, whose six-week absence with knee and hamstring problems was lengthened by a COVID-19 positive result during the week but Craig Bellamy’s side maintained its machine-like intensity to improve to 11-3 and keep the Cowboys at bay in the battle for second spot behind premiers Penrith.

Kiwi halfback Jahrome Hughes was the maestro for Melbourne, scoring two tries and setting up another in a superb performance heading into next Saturday’s long-awaited Test against Tonga in Auckland, the first for New Zealand since November, 2019.

Tui Kamikamica, who will back up for Fiji in the Pacific Test at Campbelltown next Saturday, opened the scoring for Melbourne when he used his bulk to crash over from close range in the ninth minute.

The Storm could have doubled their six-point lead but winger Dean Ieremia fumbled the putdown after winning the race to a well-placed Kenny Bromwich grubber.

It fooled referee Adam Gee, who awarded the try, and the club’s social media department but the bunker took all of two seconds to realise it was no-try after looking at the replay.

Brisbane hit back in the 18th minute when Corey Oates touched down for the 11th time in 2022 when Brenko Lee batted down a bomb and stand-in skipper Kurt Capewell spiralled a pass to the winger.

Reynolds’ halfback replacement Tyrone Roberts put up the kick which led to the try while his goal-kicking understudy, Kotoni Staggs, shanked the sideline conversion attempt.

Staggs and NSW teammate Payne Haas shrugged off shoulder injuries to take their place in the Brisbane line-up.

Justin Olam, who re-signed on a four-year deal during the week, had a try disallowed in the 22nd minute when Cameron Munster skittled Brisbane’s Jordan Riki before the Storm centre had latched onto a high kick.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 17: Dean Ieremia of the Storm is tackled during the round 15 NRL match between the Melbourne Storm and the Brisbane Broncos at AAMI Park, on June 17, 2022, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

Dean Ieremia. (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

Oates made it 12 for the season as he makes a late bid for an Origin recall with the Maroons when the bunker ruled Capewell didn’t affect Hughes with his decoy run as Brisbane swept the ball along the backline.

Staggs nailed the conversion from out wide this time for a 10-6 Broncos lead after 26 minutes.

Queensland winger Selwyn Cobbo dived over for his 11th try of the year when Ieremia knocked on while on a kick return and Roberts spun the ball wide for a 16-6 Broncos cushion.

Cobbo coughed up the pill at the other end of the field five minutes later after a Hughes kick and Munster pounced to cut the deficit to four.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 17: Corey Oates of the Broncos scores a try under pressure from Jahrome Hughes of the Storm during the round 15 NRL match between the Melbourne Storm and the Brisbane Broncos at AAMI Park, on June 17, 2022, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

Corey Oates scores a try. (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

Hughes levelled it up at 16-16 just before half-time when he set up and backed up a Nick Meaney break to dive over in the corner. 

Meaney missed the sideline conversion and then a penalty goal from halfway after the Broncos were incorrectly penalised after the siren for kicking out on the full when replays proved Munster caught the ball before he stepped over the dead-ball line.

The stalemate held firm with both sides missing opportunities to strike first in the second half before Ieremia slid over in the 56th minute off an Olam pass and the left-edge duo did it again a short time later for a 26-16 advantage.

Hughes sealed the result with his second try eight minutes from full-time before Ezra Mam backed up a Billy Walters run to peg back the final margin in the closing stages.

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