A stunning display by Ryan Papenhuyzen was overshadowed by a feared recurrence of a medial injury for Cameron Munster in the Storm's 36-24 qualifying final win over the Eels.
Munster, who has twice missed games this year with the same medial injury to his right knee, limped from the field the field in the 70th minute and flung his mouth guard away in disgust.
He was visibly annoyed at the end of the game with an ice pack attached to his knee but coach Craig Bellamy said after the game that medical staff thought it was just "a little tweak" of his knee and nothing too serious. Munster said he was hopeful of being available for the preliminary final.
"I didn’t re-injure the spot. It is a bit sore. I just got a bit of a knee clash and it is a bit swollen,” Munster said after the game.
"I’ll get scans tomorrow and do everything I can with the physios to make sure I am right for the prelim [final]."
Match: Storm v Eels
Finals Week 1 -
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
In a fortnight Melbourne will meet the winner of next week’s Roosters-Raiders clash and will be sweating on Munster’s availability.
The Eels next week host the winner of Sunday’s clash between the Rabbitohs and Knights in an elimination final.
Storm fullback Papenhuyzen came back to haunt the Eels with a stunning display of speed and creativity to send Melbourne into their sixth consecutive preliminary final.
No Pap, no win, says forthright Bellamy
"He was our best player by a mile," coach Craig Bellamy said.
"If he hadn’t been in the team we wouldn’t have won. He was everywhere."
The electric fullback scored two tries and had a hand in four others on a horror night for Parramatta with Maika Sivo and Blake Ferguson both suffering knee injuries.
The victory took the Storm's record over the Eels in finals football to 7-0 and was Melbourne’s 19th consecutive win in Queensland at all venues.
The speed and ball-playing of Papenhuyzen broke the game open late in the first half with a 50-metre break that led to a try and then scored one of his own after the Eels held a 12-0 lead.
It was on the same ground and against the same team that Papenhuyzen had announced himself as a player of rare talents in Magic Round last year with a 32-minute cameo for the ages in a 64-10 thrashing.
The Storm played in the first half like they intended to replicate that performance but they were up against a vastly improved Parramatta side on this occasion.
Melbourne completed at just 67 per cent in the first half and were clunky with the ball in hand as the Eels scrambled superbly.
Electric play from Jennings and Ferguson creates a try for Gutherson
Shaun Lane charged down a Cameron Smith kick in the first set of six to give the Eels the early momentum.
Mitchell Moses stepped up with a perfectly weighted lob bomb, Jahrome Hughes fumbled and Nathan Brown swooped to score.
The Eels lost winger Sivo to a suspected MCL injury in the 11th minute but that didn’t stop the visitors from scrambling brilliantly whenever the Storm threatened on the edges.
Munster frustrated as he is forced from the field with knee injury
It was the electric Eels of old in the 23rd minute after a Storm turnover.
Reed Mahoney got it to Clint Gutherson who threw a sweeping ball to Michael Jennings. The veteran centre flicked a beauty to Ferguson and Gutherson backed up on the inside to score one of the tries of the season and give the Eels a 12-0 lead.
Papenhuyzen broke the game open for the Storm with a 50-metre blitz through the middle of the field. The pocket dynamo then chimed into a sweeping left-to-right movement for Suliasi Vunivalu to score.
The offloading ability of Kenny Bromwich put Justin Olam in the clear and when Papenhuyzen loomed up in support it was shut the gate and 12-12 at half-time.
Papenhuyzen finishes a Storm sizzler
After the break Munster found his mojo with his passing game to put a rampant Kenny Bromwich through. Papenhuzyen loomed in support to send Josh Addo-Carr over.
Addo-Carr came flying out of the line minutes later on his try line and Mahoney displayed great vision to put a clever grubber through for Ferguson to touch down with not a Storm defender in sight and level it up at 18-18.
Ferguson’s hands then let him down when he tried to gather a Munster kick. In the ensuing set Munster popped a corker for Jesse Bromwich to stroll over under the sticks.
Papenhuyzen proved himself the perfect link man again to send hard-running Brenko Lee over. Ferguson limped off and Lane crashed over to reduce Storm’s lead to 12 on a night where injuries to both team’s big guns overshadowed a thrilling final.
Bellamy was rightly chuffed at his side's achievement of making a sixth consecutive preliminary final.
"We are very proud of that," he said.
"I just had a chat to them about what we need to improve but I also said I am so proud of them. This has been the hardest situation we have been in as a club in history being away from home.
"Some guys have handled it really well and some guys have found it really tough, but to finish second on the table and to come back from 12-nil I am really proud of the 17 tonight, the staff and all the other players."