Ladder leaders Melbourne have signalled their premiership intent with a hard-fought 26-16 victory over fellow NRL contenders South Sydney.
Billed as a preview of a possible finals match-up, the Rabbitohs had a shot at upsetting the title favourites after drawing level with 20 minutes left in Gosford.
Stunned by a two-try ambush inside 12 minutes, the 'home' side showed plenty of character in fighting back early in the second half on Sunday.
And then they had a look at the Storm with 12 men after second-rower Felise Kaufusi was sin-binned for a professional foul.
But instead it was the Storm, led by star pair Cameron Smith and Cameron Munster, who drew on all their big-game experience to close the game out.
The duo combined for the go-ahead try in the 61st minute, with Munster blitzing four defenders on his way to the stripe.
The contest was seemingly over when Smith converted a penalty goal soon after.
However the crowd of 19,533 - the sixth biggest at Central Coast Stadium - got a grandstand finish when Campbell Graham crossed for his third try.
Yet it was Smith and Munster who combined again to put Brodie Croft over for the game-sealer, which now moves the Storm six points clear atop the league.
They can now wrap up the minor premiership next week.
The victory comes after a turbulent week that includes losing Christian Welch, Jahrome Hughes and Ryan Papenhuyzen and Brandon Smith to injury.
"I just said to the players I thought it was probably one of our better wins of the year because of the circumstances," Storm coach Craig Bellamy said.
"I was just rapt in our effort and I think that was one of our best effort performances of the year."
The Rabbitohs, meanwhile, remain in fourth place on 28 points - just two ahead of Manly and Parramatta with four games remaining in the regular season.
And they will be banking on the inclusions of Sam Burgess, Braidon Burns and George Burgess should the two heavyweights meet again in September.
They will also be hoping that halfback Adam Reynolds is in peak condition he aggravated a back issue in the second half but still finished the match.
Bennett had sprung a surprise change before kick-off by benching veteran John Sutton for the first time in 12 years.
But it looked to have backfired by conceding two first tries, first a soft Jesse Bromwich try under the posts, before Justin Olam spun his way over soon after.
However aided by eight consecutive penalties, the Rabbitohs soon recovered and earned one back before halftime with quick hands for Graham.
Bennett was positive about his team's outlook despite the defeat.
"They don't make it easy for you at any stage of the game," Bennett said.
"So I thought that was one of the most pleasing parts of our performance, the way we stayed at it and got ourselves back on equal points on the scoreboard.
"I thought we matched it with them for most of the game after that first period and I liked that."