English import John Bateman scored with four minutes left on the clock to send the Raiders through to the NRL preliminary finals, leaving the Storm to lick their wounds over a bruising 12-10 win to Ricky Stuart’s men at AAMI Park on Saturday night.
The Storm were left to rue a controversial officiating decision inside the final two minutes when Suliasi Vunivalu was ruled to have touched the sideline.
Three years ago the Storm snuck away with a 14-12 over the Raiders in the 2016 preliminary final. But just four weeks ago and the Raiders enjoyed a Lazarus-like comeback fighting from 18-0 down to win the round 22 game 22-18.
So neither the AAMI Park hostile crowd or the reputation of Craig Bellamy’s players – who only lost four games from 24 in the regular season – intimidated the Raiders once again.
Storm will now await the winner of Sunday’s elimination final between the Eels and Broncos in next weekend’s knock-out semi-finals.
It was your typical dogged finals affair with a low-scoring 6-2 lead to the Raiders at half-time.
Match: Storm v Raiders
Finals Week 1 -
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Replacement back Bailey Simonsson scored in the third minute in the south-eastern corner, but the only points from the home side came from a Cameron Smith penalty in the 40th.
Storm had their chances in the first half. Nelson Asofa-Solomona was penalised for a double movement near the posts, while Will Chambers on the burst spilled a Ryan Papenhuyzen pass with the line begging.
The Raiders also had a measure of ill fortune. Jordan Rapana had a try disallowed for being ahead of kicker Aidan Sezer and Canberra lost Nick Cotric after 19 minutes when he copped an accidental boot in the face tackling Papenhuyzen and failed his HIA.
Bateman scores crucial try after Addo-Carr spills the ball
Simonsson became a very valuable bench utility. He filled in for Leilua (eye) and then came back on to replace Cotric.
Then after slotting a sideline conversion, Croker missed two far easier penalty goals.
But after subduing Melbourne so well in the opening 40 minutes, it was Storm that put on eight points early in the second half from a try to Suliasi Vunivalu and three penalties from Smith. It was 10-6 in Storm’s favour and the match was continuing to boil with some ferocious defence from both sides.
Rapana was placed on report for a lifting tackle on Cameron Munster, while Joe Tapine was also on report and penalised for an alleged chicken-wing tackle on Brandon Smith.
Asofa-Solomona certainly left his mark on the rib cages of several Raiders forwards in the opening exchanges of the second half, which helped turn momentum back to the home side. He ran over 100 metres in his opening 30-minute stint.
Leilua fails to start the game
Vunivalu’s cover tackle on Simonsson to stop his passage to the corner post was a sight to behold as well.
So Stuart and his men have a week off before hosting a preliminary final at Canberra’s GIO Stadium in week three of the finals.
Their fans will now be dreaming of whether it is their turn to win a premiership for the Green Machine 25 years after Mal Meninga led them to a grand final win over the Bulldogs in 1994.
Vunivalu flies high to get Melbourne their first try