Fearless Canberra have ended Melbourne’s NRL season in stunning fashion, posting a 28-20 victory in their elimination final to continue their dominance at AAMI Park.
The Raiders repelled a second-half Storm fightback to oust the perennial finals heavyweights and march on to a semi-final showdown against Parramatta at CommBank Stadium next weekend.
Canberra second-rower Hudson Young pounced on a Jack Wighton grubber which wrong-footed Cameron Munster in the 65th minute, with Jamal Fogarty adding the extras for the visitors to regain the lead 22-20.
And then an opportunist try by winger Jordan Rapana, when the ball bounced off the head of Sebastian Kris, secured the upset win for the eight-placed Raiders over fifth-placed Melbourne.
The Storm trailed 16-8 at halftime and looked down and out, but winger Xavier Coates bagged his third try of the night and then giant prop Nelson Asofa-Solomona crashed over in the 56th minute to put the home side ahead 20-16.
But the gutsy Raiders refused to go away.
Winners on their last four visits to Melbourne, Canberra kept their composure to reclaim the lead and keep the Storm at bay.
Canberra coach Ricky Stuart’s tactics targeted Nick Meaney, who was defending at five-eighth for the Storm, with the Raiders’ big men, led by Joe Tapine and Josh Papalii, doing plenty of damage.
The Raiders were starved of territory in the opening stanza but made almost every visit into Melbourne’s half count.
After weathering some early Storm pressure the Raiders flung the ball wide and young centre Matt Timoko showed his pace and power, palming off Munster to touch down in the seventh minute.
Two tries to Coates put his side ahead 8-4 but the Raiders crossed twice in the final nine minutes of the half to take an eight-point lead into the break.
Halfback Jamal Fogarty and then Elliott Whitehead both punched through flimsy defence, which would have infuriated Storm coach Craig Bellamy.
Coates planted the ball across the line for his third try four minutes into the second half after a break by Marion Seve for the Storm to only trail by two points.
And then Asofa-Solomona’s effort put the home side ahead but it was short-lived with the green machine finishing with a flourish to send the Storm packing.
It end’s Melbourne’s September reign and sees the club exit in week one of finals for the first time since 2014. The club has played in a total of 11 grand finals during the club’s 24-year history, missing the finals on only three occasions.
Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy said their inconsistent display was a reflection of their whole season.
“We let too many points in – you don’t win a finals game letting the opposition score 28 points and they scored a couple of soft ones too, as soft as butter, and that was the disappointing thing,” Bellamy said.
“It has been a hard year, a long year with the injuries we’ve had and few other things happening and I thought the guys did a good job to finish where we finished but to go out on that performance, especially defensively, was disappointing.”
Last year, the Storm plundered 19 consecutive victories from round four onwards, equalling the premiership record for most consecutive wins set by the 1974 Eastern Suburbs Roosters. It secured the club a second minor premiership in three years.
But their 2022 run is now over as the unfancied Green Machine next line up against the Parramatta Eels in another sudden-death final next week at CommBank Stadium on Friday night. It will be the first ever finals meeting between the Raiders and Eels.