NRL 2020: Melbourne Storm beat Canberra Raiders, grand final spot booked
The Melbourne Storm became the first team through to the NRL season decider after a Jahrome Hughes masterclass inspired a 30-10 preliminary final win over the Raiders at Suncorp Stadium.
The Storm are into the grand final for the fourth time in five years while their skipper Cameron Smith will make his eighth appearance in a decider.
Smith left the field in the 75th minute and waved to the crowd after playing a key role in getting his side to the big dance yet again.
He was then chaired from the field by his teammates and lapped up every moment of what it now appears certain was his last game at Suncorp Stadium.
There was a failure of the stadium’s ticketing system due to a national outage with thousands of the 37,112 fans having to wait up to eight minutes into the half to get in, but there was no failure of the Storm’s systems.
If one moment summed up Melbourne’s resolve it was a 67th minute tackle by 37-year-old skipper Smith on Raiders winger Nick Cotric one metre from the tryline after a kick through.
It was the stuff champions are made of, and Smith and his team are definitely a champion outfit.
The Storm’s achievement to progress to another grand final is remarkable given they lost Cooper Cronk to the Roosters at the end of 2017 and Billy Slater to retirement at the conclusion of the 2018 season.
The two men who have filled their illustrious shoes in the 2020 season – Hughes and Papenhuyzen – were outstanding in the preliminary final as they have been for the entire season.
One of the duo had a key hand in all of the Storm’s opening four tries as Craig Bellamy’s men started the game on fire.
Jesse Bromwich gets us started
Halfback Hughes stood up to play his best game of the season when his team needed him most with his kicking, passing and running game on song.
The Storm hammered away at the Raiders right edge early, as expected, and Josh Addo-Carr poked his nose through. Hughes then found a storming Jesse Bromwich with a slick ball and Melbourne led 6-0.
Cameron Munster, Papenhuyzen and Kenny Bromwich combined to put Addo-Carr away and the fullback backed up on the inside to score a cracker from a sweeping 60-metre movement.
Minutes later a Hughes bomb was spilled by rookie Raiders winger Semi Valemei.
Felise Kaufusi scooped it up for Hughes to dash through a staggered defensive line and find Suliasi Vunivalu.
The Storm right winger then dazzled on his feet to beat Jarrod Croker and a hapless Valemei to make it 16-nil after nine minutes.
Papenhuyzen’s creativity came to the fore with a testing grubber which was fumbled and bumbled by Cotric and snaffled by an airborne Justin Olam. At 24-0 after as many minutes it was verging on game over.
Vunivalu beats three Raiders to score
Canberra had other ideas and mounted a resurgence and dominated for the rest of the half.
The Raiders were able to build pressure on the back of repeat sets and a perfectly weighted George Williams kick was well caught by Cotric who showed great strength to bustle his way over in the corner.
The difference in the half was the defensive resolve of the Storm who repelled the Raiders on the tryline on several occasions.
Melbourne led 24-6 at the break and the opening to the second half was ferocious with both sides pummelling each other with venom.
Rapana flicks a pass to Cotric for his second
Centre Brenko Lee was put on report for a careless high tackle on Valemei but there didn't appear to be a lot in it.
After several trysavers by Addo-Carr the Storm turned the screws with a Hughes bomb batted back by Vunivalu for Dale Finucane to crash over in his 200th game and make the scoreline 30-6 in the 63rd minute before Cotric scored a late consolation try.