The Melbourne Storm have beaten the Canberra Raiders 14-12 at AAMI Park to progress to the grand final.
Playing in their first preliminary final since the 1997 Super League season, the Raiders were unable to cap off a breakthrough season with a grand final appearance.
The Raiders were given an early scare when Josh Papalii and Jarrod Croker copped blows in the opening minutes. Croker fell awkwardly in a tackle but after being assessed by the trainers was cleared to continue playing.
Melbourne scored the first points of the match via the boot of Cameron Smith. The Storm were awarded a penalty after Josh Hodgson was ruled to have held Dale Finucane too long in a tackle and duly kicked for goal.
Jordan Rapana scored his 23rd try of the season to break the record for most tries scored for the Raiders.
After being thrown a cutout pass from Elliot Whitehead, Rapana was too powerful for three Storm defenders as he managed to plant the ball on the try line.
With regular goalkicker Jarrod Croker feeling the effects of his earlier blow, Aidan Sezer slotted the sideline conversion.
Cooper Cronk scored from a well-executed set play in his 300th NRL game. A pass from Smith found the halfback who sprinted through the defensive line to score.
The Raiders started the second half determined to overcome the two-point deficit and almost scored through Edrick Lee. A towering kick from Sezer found the winger who got a hand to the ball but was unable grasp the difficult chance.
The game turned on its head with twenty minutes to go when Jack Wighton was sent to the sin bin for holding Vunivalu too long.
Cheyse Blair scored from the following play when the centre ran diagonally infield to pierce a gap in the Raiders defence.
Cameron Smith missed the conversion but kicked a penalty shortly afterwards to give the Storm a 14-6 lead.
The Raiders copped another bitter blow when attacking weapon, Joey Leilua, went down with a left hamstring injury.
Blair looked to have taken advantage of the situation with a try as he did earlier, but his effort was disallowed due to an obstruction.
The Raiders nearly scored when Lee received a pass to send him over the line, but the winger couldn’t hold onto the pass.
Elliot Whitehead scored a late try to give the Raiders a chance to win with four minutes remaining. Playing on the wing instead of his usual position in the backrow, the Englishman scored in the corner.
Aidan Sezer kicked the sideline conversion, but it wasn’t enough as the Storm claimed a 14-12 victory.
Storm 14 (Tries: Cronk, Blair; Conversions: Smith 1/2; Penalties: Smith 2/2) defeated Raiders 12 (Tries: Rapana, Whitehead; Conversions: Sezer 2/2)
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