SYDNEY - Melbourne reaffirmed their premiership favouritism and Greg Inglis his standing as the game's No.1 talent as the Storm powered into second spot on the NRL ladder with a 30-18 win over Wests Tigers at Campbelltown Stadium.
Inglis was simply sensational as he crossed for a hat-trick of tries and beat four players to set up another, the visitors ruining Brett Hodgson's Campbelltown farewell with a resounding five tries to three win.
The victory saw the Storm leapfrog Cronulla and Sydney Roosters into second spot on the table, Melbourne with their sights firmly set on a third straight minor premiership after emerging from the hectic Origin period relatively unscathed.
Melbourne may yet have Origin to thank for igniting their season, with Inglis' stunning performance for Queensland in game two sparking a purple patch of form which shows no sign of abating.
He danced over for his first after just ten minutes before opposite number Benji Marshall returned serve to send Taniela Tuiaki over with a beautiful cut-out pass four minutes later.
Inglis restored Melbourne's advantage when he ran over the top of Marshall from close range, the visitors looking ominous in a game of tit for tat.
Then it was Hodgson's turn to shine, the diminutive warrior playing his last game on the same ground he debuted against the South Queensland Crushers in 1997 as a member of Wests Magpies.
Dene Halatau burst downfield on the back of a Marshall inside ball and did well to draw in fullback Billy Slater before putting Hodgson over under the posts for a 12-all ball game.
Tension boiled over just seconds before the break when all 26 players got involved in a bit of push and shove, but that was the last of the fight left in the Tigers who succumbed weakly after the break.
Slater was spectacular in reeling in a Cooper Cronk bomb and taking out Hodgson in one outstanding leap to put Melbourne ahead for good five minutes after halftime, the decision going to the video referee for a possible obstruction by Slater on his opposing No.1.
Inglis then turned it on in a five minutes blitz to step past four players to put Manu over before brushing off a pair of tacklers for his third of the night.
Storm coach Craig Bellamy admitted the ploy to shift Inglis to the centres had paid handsome dividends, but he stopped short of heaping too much praise on the talented youngster.
"He's obviously a special talent, there's no doubt about that, we've seen what he's done," said Bellamy, who spent much of his playing career alongside the likes of Canberra legends Mal Meninga and Laurie Daley.
"But you start comparing him to the Meningas and the Daleys, those guys did it for 10 or 12 years - Greg's a got a little way to go there. "
Despite moving ominously into second position, Bellamy claimed top of the table Manly were the new benchmark for challengers to the premiership.
"I think Manly are without a doubt," he said.
"They've got a hard edge about them. They're sitting on top of the competition and they've scored more points than anyone else and they're the best defensive team. "
Despite the loss the Tigers remain just one point outside the top eight, but coach Tim Sheens said they needed to make a move soon if they were to remain in the hunt.
"We're putting together patches but we're not putting together a real good game and the confidence is down a little bit too," Sheens said.
"We need a win desperately to raise that confidence. "