In an end to end qualifying final there were 5 lead changes, with Storm five-eighth Cameron Munster’s 40 metre left foot field goal proving the difference in the closing stages.
The Storm started full of intent with fullback Billy Slater just missing out on scoring a spectacular try from a Munster kick as he placed the ball on the dead ball line. Instead, it was the Rabbitohs who scored first through winger Dane Gagai after a cross-field kick from halfback Adam Reynolds was batted back by Cameron Murray.
The Storm hit back in the 23rd minute through centre Curtis Scott and Billy Slater’s basketball cut out pass put Suliasi Vunivalu saw the Storm take a 10-8 lead after 32 minutes.
The Rabbitohs looked like they would be halftime leaders after Robert Jennings kept his arm off the ground and flicked the ball to centre Greg Inglis who scored to put the Rabbitohs 12-10. Suliasi Vunivalu was criticised for calling for a knock on in that play rather than playing to the whistle. However, he turned from villain to hero in the dying seconds of the first half after Storm halfback Brodie Croft made a superb line break and kicked in behind the defence for Vunivalu who collected a perfect bounce to score out wide. Captain Cameron Smith converted to give the Storm a 16-12 lead at the break.
The Rabbitohs did remarkably well in the 2nd half considering prop George Burgess was sent to the Sin Bin for interfering with Storm lock Dale Finucane in the 45th minute. It was Anthony Seibold’s men who took the upper hand in the 56th minute with Greg Inglis taking a superb catch from a Reynolds kick and proving too strong for Billy Slater and putting the ball down to score. The Rabbitohs led 22-18 after Robert Jennings scored from a classic left side backline movement.
The Storm levelled through a try to centre Cheyse Blair but then appeared to be on their way to a first-ever home loss to the Rabbitohs. Young Rabbitohs back-rower Cameron Murray made the Storm pay for a rare mistake when he strolled through from close range with 10 minutes to go.
The Storm refused to give up and came up with a brilliant sweeping backline move to release winger Josh Addo-Carr into space, with Addo-Carr kicking back infield to set up Cheyse Blair’s 2nd try. With 3 minutes remaining, Cameron Munster sealed an incredible 29-28 victory for the Storm with his trusty left foot.
Here are five things we learned from this game:
1. Low penalty count = better spectacle
Fans of all teams have had their share of complaints this season about the high penalty counts.
While the referees have been looking to crack down on teams who seek to give themselves time to get back in defence by giving away deliberate penalties, fans, coaches and players alike have been annoyed in 2018 by the ‘nitpicking’ penalties awarded by referees.
It was refreshing to hear less of the whistle with only 11 penalties awarded (Melbourne won penalties 6-5) and it wasn’t surprising that a faster paced and entertaining spectacle was the result. It was a great way to kick off the 2018 NRL Finals Series.
2. Melbourne are a real hope of back-to-back Premierships
The Storm’s form leading into the finals has been patchy but they showed that they can never be underestimated after coming from behind on several occasions to win a finals thriller. The Rabbitohs powerful pack and slick backline caused the Storm plenty of problems but Melbourne still backed themselves in attack to come up with the big plays when most needed.
With the outgoing Billy Slater and ageless Cameron Smith playing as well as ever and five-eighth Cameron Munster a genuine match winner the Storm are a big chance of going back to back, especially with a home preliminary final already booked.
3. Melbourne hoodoo continues, but plenty of positives for the Bunnies
When Cameron Murray scored with 10 minutes to go, the Bunnies appeared on their way to finally come up with their first ever win in Melbourne. Some Storm brilliance and errors and defensive lapses at crucial times denied them. Considering the Storm completed at 89% the Rabbitohs did very well to come so close.
The Burgess brothers and hooker Damien Cook again threatened through the middle and five-eighth Cody Walker starred with some classy touches. The Rabbitohs will face either Brisbane or St. George-Illawarra in Sydney next weekend, which will be tough but they’ll be a good chance of bouncing back if they fix up their defensive and disciplinary issues.
4. Brodie Croft stands up on the big stage
Young Storm halfback Brodie Croft was a late inclusion in Coach Craig Bellamy’s line-up, wearing jersey Number 19 and Croft made the most of his opportunity. Jahrome Hughes has been preferred in the halfback role lately but with Croft starting tonight he came up with some big plays to help the Storm to victory.
His line break and try assist for Vunivalu put the Storm in front at halftime. While the 21-year-old still has plenty of improvement in him he is a natural halfback and with great experience around him he fits into the side well.
5. Sam Burgess is whole-hearted but doesn't have to do everything
Rabbitohs lock Sam Burgess couldn’t be faulted on his effort at AAMI Park after making 183 metres and 39 tackles. However, the English warhorse came up with some crucial handling errors when trying to do too much himself, including when he went for a miracle pass out the back in the final minute which was dived on by Cameron Smith.
What did you learn from Melbourne's thrilling 29-28 win over the Rabbitohs at AAMI Park? Let us know in the comments below.