Melbourne Storm’s season is over and so is their streak of seven-consecutive preliminary finals after the Canberra Raiders showed yet again that they love the friendly confines of AAMI Park.
The Raiders came back from being 20-16 down with 23 minutes to play to beat the Storm 28-20 in their elimination final on Saturday night and progress to next week’s semi-finals as 20,838 fans joined the Storm in going home disappointed.
Raiders fans were so confident in the result they had an impromptu Viking Clap 90 seconds before full-time, and they deserved their moment of glory on a ground where their club has now won their last five games.
The 2022 campaign promised so much for the Storm but injuries and their own patches of poor ball-handling and untimely penalties saw them gradually fall from contention.
With captain Jesse Bromwich, Kenny Bromwich, Felise Kaufusi and Brandon Smith all leaving, the Storm will have a much different forward pack next season. Whether they will be worldly enough to keep the club among the best in the NRL remains to be seen.
The Storm dominated the opening eight minutes with four possessions inside their attacking 10-metre line, but they couldn’t find a try and moments after a rushed pass from Nelson Asofa-Solomona was dropped by Harry Grant, the Raiders were on the board.
Star five-eighth Jack Weighton broke the line at midfield and after his pass outside was tipped, prop Joseph Tapine caught the ball and fed it wide to centre Matthew Timoko, who took on fullback Cameron Munster and fended him off strongly before touching down.
Those minutes encapsulated the most frustrating parts of the Storm’s 2022 season and showed why they are not in the top-four.
On 17 minutes Melbourne were on the board as Munster, Jahrome Hughes and Marion Seve combined to set Xavier Coates free with the winger diving into the corner for a try.
Hughes’ vision was on show on 21 minutes when he chipped up a kick into the empty right sideline where an unmarked Coates pulled it in and touched down for his second try in five minutes – the only letdown for the Storm was that both kicks for goal were from the right sideline and Nick Meaney was unable to convert either of them.
Raiders halfback Jamal Fogarty had the visitors back in the lead sprinting to the line and scoring with three Storm players trying to hold him back. Fogarty converted his own try to make it 10-8.
The Raiders sensed their moment and a costly Storm penalty on their defensive 20m line gave the visitors the ball, and they punched it over the line with Elliott Whitehead scoring to put his club up 16-8 at halftime.
The Raiders had built a lead despite having just 46 per cent of possession.
Raiders firebrand Corey Horsburgh showed his club’s mindset moments into the second half when Munster lost a boot only for Horsburgh to throw it 20m back into the in-goal.
Coates had his hat-trick on 54 minutes when Seve and Munster made a break down the right wing before passing to Coates who slid into the line and scored before Munster’s conversion made it 16-14.
Hughes was forced off on the hour when he was caught in an awkward tackle and felt for his neck. Tapine was placed in report for his role in the tackle while Hughes walked off the field but was sent for a HIA.
Munster took a penalty kick following the Hughes tackle, but his shot went wide of the left post.
The Storm persisted in attack and Asofa-Solomona barged over to put his club up 20-16 with 23 minutes to go, but the Raiders regained the lead shortly after as Hudson Young out-muscled Munster for a bouncing footy in the in-goal, touching it down for a try as the visitors led 22-20 with 13 minutes left.
The Raiders finished with a fortunate try, with five minutes remaining, as a flick pass bounced off the head of a Canberra player and into the path of Jordan Rapana, who scored the try for a 28-20 lead and sealed the victory.
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