Melbourne stormed their way into a grand-final place with a 10 minute blitz at the start of the game which saw them score three tries and take a grip on the game against Canberra that they never seriously looked like losing.
Jesse Bromwich opened the scoring for the Storm after five minutes of the fast and furious play you expect in an NRL preliminary final. A mistimed kick by the Raiders’ Elliot Whitehead gave Melbourne the chance to power down the field on the left wing before moving the ball into the centre for front-rower Bromwich to power over.
Just 90 Seconds later, fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen broke once more to move the ball out to Bromwich then to Josh Addo-Carr who stormed down the wing before passing back inside for Papenhuyzen to score again. Cameron Smith’s conversions meant the Storm were now in clear command at 12-0.
And then they cemented that lead with another score in the right corner courtesy of winger Suliasi Vunivalu, after the Raiders failed to collect a last-tackle kick and Melbourne stormed through the broken field.
Smith recorded a rare miss on his touchline conversion attempt, and Melbourne were leading 16-0 after 10 minutes.
But he took the chance to add those missing two points to the score when the Storm won a penalty for obstruction on 15 minutes.
Less than five minutes later, the video referee was called in after Josh Addo-Carr appeared to ground the ball in the Raiders’ in-goal after running onto a grubber, but over-ruled on-field ref Ashey Klein as Addo-Carr failed to get downward pressure on the loose ball.
But the Storm left edge were relentless: scarce minutes later Justin Olam gathered a loose ball when the Raiders’ Nick Cotric failed to clear a kick from their in-goal area and dived to score. Smith converted and the score stood at 24-0 after just 25 minutes.
The Storm had not lost any of their previous 19 games in Queensland and it looked very much like they were going to continue to trend with ease.
But the Raiders started to push into Melbourne’s half, forcing a drop-out for a repeat set and then winning a penalty for offside.
And after Corey Haraware-Naera being held up short of the line, Cotric jumped to collect a George Williams kick and put the ball down in the corner. Jarrod Croker made sure of the conversion for a 24-6 scoreline.
And despite more Raiders pressure on the Storm try line in the final five minutes of the half, that was the way the score stayed until half-time.
The Canberra team came out or the second half in the same mood, forcing Dale Finucane back 15m into his own in-goal after he collected the kick-off – but promptly showed the other half of their game when they dropped the ball with the Melbourne tryline at their mercy. Not to be outdone, the Storm forced a Raiders drop-out at the end of their set by pushing the receiver back 10m into goal.
The Canberra side applied plenty more pressure and made an even match of the game for the next 20 minutes, but couldn’t turn that into points.
Inevitably it was the hosts who were first to cross the line in the second half when Finucane powered over through Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad after gathering a loose ball from an attacking kick. Smith kicked it to restore the Storms 24-point lead at 30-6, just 15 minutes away from a grand final place.
Cotric almost kept them in the game with a great 60m break from Cotric, only to be tackled just short of the line by Cameron Smith, who had chased him from the play-the-ball, in a superb defensive play.
But Cotric did narrow the gap again with eight minutes to go. Croker couldn’t convert after the try in the corner, and the scoreboard showed a 20-point advantage for the Storm at 30-10.
And that was the way it stayed as the Storm successfully ran the clock down and looked forward to the title-decider next week.
Melbourne Storm: Papenhuyzen (T), Vunivalu (T), Lee, Olam (T), Addo-Carr, Munster, Hughes, J Bromwich (T), C Smith (3G, 1P), Welch, Kaufusi, K Bromwich, Asofa-Solomona. Replacements: B Smith, Faasuamaleaui, Hynes, Finucane.
Canberra Raiders: Nicoll-Klokstad, Valemai, Croker (G), Rapana, Cotric (T), Wighton, Williams, Papalii, Havili, Young, Bateman, Whitehead, Tapine. Replacements: Starling, Soliola, Lui, Haraware-Naera.
Referee: Ashley Klein
Half Time: 24-6
Full Time: 30-12
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Melbourne