By STEVE MASCORD
VICTORIAN junior Young Tonumapea called it dream-like experience while St George Illawarra coach Steve Price immediately started asking why his own nightmare was allowed to happen.
Melbourne Storm produced the season’s greatest escape when Tonumaipea scored after the siren, with the ball swept from sideline to sideline, to beat the Dragons 28-24 at AAMI Park.
With 22 minutes left, the joint venture held what seemed to be a match-winning 24-10 lead.
“It’s something I’ve only dreamed of,” said Tonumaipea, 21. “To do it in real life, it’s awesome.
“This is my first winning try. It’s a great feeling, especially in my home town. I love it.”
But a shattered Price questioned whether play should have been allowed to continue when the siren sounded as the ball was played – by Toniumaipea.
“The siren was a bit later than what I was looking at on the scoreboard,” Price told radio Triple M. “When I thought it was zero, he still hadn’t played the ball. Stuffed if I know,
“Gut wrenching, totally gut-wrenching.”
There were other controversies, not least St George Illawarra finishing the game with 12 men with Joel Thompson off the field because of the concussion rule.
That should spur debate about adding an extra replacement in those circumstances. The Dragons also lost centre Dylan Farrell to a pectoral muscle tear just before halftime.
Price also claimed sterner action should have been taken over a Will Chambers shoulder charge on Josh Dugan. “He got him right in the head,” the coach said.
There was the suggestion of a shepherd in Cooper Cronk’s 71st minute try and, on the others side of the ledger, fullback Dugan appeared offside when Trent Merrin scored for the Dragons in the 53rd minute.
And the decision to deny Melbourne second rower Kevin Proctor a try for a forward pass seemed dubious.
But it all came down to club football’s answer to the State of Origin try from hell.
As the bell rang out, Tonumaipea played the ball, Cronk bombed to the right, Willl Chambers punched the ball down to Kenny Bromwich who flicked it to Sisa Waqa.
Waqa flung it to Tohu Harris, who straightened up in midfield before finding Cronk, who created space for Ryan Hoffman.
“Pass it Hoffy, pass it,” said Tonumaipea when asked what he was thinking during these frantic moments.
Hoffman passed it, the winger touched down and the crowd erupted. Hoffman said of the match winner: “We had to teach him to stop running at defenders and start running a space.”
Storm captain Cameron Smith said it was important his charges remembered how poorly they played in the opening hour.
“i think there’s only one other game that compares to that one – a few years ago when we beat the Bulldogs down here when Sisa put Will Chambers over in the corner,”said hooker Smith.
“This one probably beats that one as far as finishes go.
“I don’t want to take anything away from our win but, you know, I wish we could play like that early in the game rather than late.
“Tonight we had some simple errors – blokes trying to offload when they had three blokes on top of them, dropped balls where you’d like to think our blokes at the back would take them.
“That just puts so much pressure on our defence,”
Coach Craig Bellamy said: “If we’d finished at 24-22 or whatever it was, I would have been quite satisfied by that last 20 minutes.”
MELBOURNE 28 (W Chambers 2 J Bromwich C Cronk Y Tonumaipea tries; C Smith 4 goals) beat ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 24 (D Farrell B Morris G Beale T Merrin tries G Widdop 4 goals) at AAMI Park. Referee: M Cecchin/G Atkins. Crowd: 13,130.
Filed for: THE AUSTRALIAN