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Melbourne have put in a dominant display to book their place in the 2012 Grand Final, defeating a disappointing Manly side 40 points to 12 in front of 25,543 fans at AAMI Park.
It was going to be fiery but Manly started how they would continue throughout the match with a knock on. The errors kept coming leading to Cooper Cronk swooping on the ball and fending off some flimsy defense to open the scoring.
The start didn't get much better for Manly as another error gave Billy Slater the opportunity to slip under the defense. The fullback scoring Melbourne's second despite the protests of a knock on making it 8-0 early on.
Melbourne's third try came from the usual suspects though; Smith, Cronk and Slater who combined to send Will Chambers away for the third try and a 12-0 lead as Cameron Smith forgot his kicking boots.
After a shocking start, Manly needed some leadership from their senior players and Jamie Lyon delivered. He latched onto a Daly Cherry-Evans bomb to keep Manly in the game at 12-6 going into halftime.
Surely it couldn't get worse for Manly but they came out much like the first half, this time conceding a needless penalty to allow Melbourne into their half again. They don't need a second invitation as Cronk was on the end of a Chambers break to make it a twelve point gap again.
Smith put the advantage out to fourteen with a penalty goal but Jamie Lyon stepped up again, pouncing on a loose ball to cut the deficit to eight, the closest it would get in the contest.
The Storm extended their lead back to fourteen when Jesse Bromwich was on the end of a Cronk short ball to crash over.
From there, Melbourne weren't going to be headed by a proliferate Sea Eagles side.
Slater made it a double for his tally after a long range effort from a scrum to put paid to Manly's title defense and it was party time in Melbourne.
Smith added a second penalty goal to add two but the scoring wasn't over.
Kevin Proctor put the icing on the cake, as he took a cut-out pass from Slater who went down the short side, making it 40 points to 12 and a comprehensive win for Melbourne.
Melbourne Storm 40 defeated Manly Sea Eagles 12
National Rugby League - Finals Week 3 - Friday September 21, 2012 7:45pm
Venue: AAMI Park
Referee: Matt Cecchin and Tony Archer
Video Referee: Russell Smith and Sean Hampstead
Touch Judges: Steve Carrall and Russell Turner
Halftime: Melbourne Storm 12 Manly Sea Eagles 6
Leagueunlimited.com players of the match:
3 Points - Cooper Cronk (2 Tries)
2 Points - Billy Slater (2 Tries)
1 Point - Cameron Smith (3 Conversions, 2 Penalty Goals)
Melbourne Storm (40)
Tries: Cooper Cronk (2), Billy Slater (2), Will Chambers, Kevin Proctor, Jesse Bromwich
Field Goals: Cooper Cronk (0/1)
Conversions: Cameron Smith (3/6), Gareth Widdop (1/1)
Penalty Goals: Cameron Smith (2/2)
Manly Sea Eagles (12)
Tries: Jamie Lyon (2)
Conversions: Jamie Lyon (2/2)
LeagueUnlimited.com Live Commentary It's finally here rugby league fans, preliminary final weekend! Tonight we have a grudge match to wet your appetite in Melbourne vs Manly, we know the history of the two sides, facing each other in two grand finals (07 and 08) and last year's Brookvale Brawl. Tonight, it's for all the marbles and the promiseland, the NRL Grand Final! The loser join 12 other teams on Mad Monday! Join us at 7:30pm for kick-off!
Curtain Raiser - the inaugural Mahe Fonua Trophy has been won by Hallam over Victoria University by 66-12.
CHANGES - the Melbourne Storm lose Jason Ryles, together with two positional changes. Sika Manu and Ryan Hinchcliffe drop to the bench, with Kevin Proctor (2nd row) and Todd Lowrie (lock) promoted to the starting lineup. Richie Fa'aoso occupies the vacant spot on the bench left by Ryles.
For Manly Sea Eagles , George Rose comes into the line-up for Vic Mauro while Michael Oldfield replaces Dean Whare on the wing. Some last drama here in the warm up, Sisa Waqa has limped off and WILL NOT take his place in the side. He will be replaced by Mahe Fonua.
Eagle rock is playing, so that could only mean one thing.. here come Manly, to a hostile reaction from the Storm faithful with a small but vocal traveling contingent. Followed by the opening strains of Thuderstruck as the crowd rise as one, to welcome Melbourne onto the field in what is Ryan Hichcliffe's 100th game.
Smith has the ball on the tee and HERE WE GO! Manly attack first through Brent Kite.
1 min: Hit up and LOST by Watmough! Melbourne will have some good field position to attack.
2 min: Smith tries a sneaky kick but it rebounds off a Manly player, six more. Fonua has an overlap but he's tackled well by Brett Stewart!
4 min: It goes high and Stewart is under it plus hammered by Slater. Penalty! Manly will get an easy out from their own end.
7 min: TRY
Straight from the tap, Tony Williams fumbles an easy hand-off.. Cooper Cronk scoops it up, beats three defenders and slams the ball down! Smith with his first kicking assignment of the night, fades it to the left.
Melbourne Storm 4-0
8 min: Well this has been a horror start from the Eagles, Taufua muffs a kick return which was bouncing around. Storm scrum, ten metres out.
VIDEO REFEREE: Billy Slater goes himself from dummy-half and has scored maybe? Checking offside and grounding.
11 min: TRY
GREEN LIGHTS... TRY! It looked a little suspect though, Slater went himself from dummy-half and goes under the defender to score despite seeming to drop it. Smith misses again.
Melbourne Storm 8-0
12 min: Fonua pokes his nose through the lie but forgets the ball, knock on.
13 min: Cheeky kick from Lyon and he forces the error. Another set of six for the Sea Eagles.
13 min: Serious case of the drops for the Sea Eagles tonight. They try the quick shift and it breaks down again when it gets to Taufua.
15 min: Melbourne go close again with Chambers leaping above the pack but knocking on.
20 min: TRY
Well constructed from the Storm here.. Smith to Cronk who goes inside to Slater who almost goes himself but finds Chambers who has too much pace for Taufua to score! Smith is having a shocker with the foot, misses his THIRD.
Melbourne Storm 12-0
22 min: Strong return from Taufua forces the penalty. Manly needed that.
23 min: Good move by the Sea Eagles to send Taufua away down the left but he's taken.They try to shift to the right, knocked on and conceded a penalty.
24 min: Storm go to Chambers again on the wing, he takes it but once again can't control it. Changeover.
27 min: Manly attempt to put Galuvao into a hole, doesn't work another knock on.
28 min: Cronk controlling things here, grubbering one through and his chasers trap Taufua. Dropout.
VIDEO REFEREE: Checking the touchline, did Fonua go out? If not it's a try.
30 min: NO TRY! Fonua stepped on the line.
It gets worse for the Sea Eagles, Matt Ballin has limped off with a hamstring strain.
31 min: Penalty and Melbourne will get out of their own end. Both teams come together but I don't think it was to swap recipes.
34 min: Quick hands by the Sea Eagles but it's touched by Lowrie.. Manly will get the ball back here.
36 min: Big shot by Sika Manu, he lined Buhrer up from miles away but he undid it all with an arm around the neck. penalty.
38 min: TRY
Last tackle, Evans puts it right on the mark for Lyon who leaps, catches and scores! Lyon converts his own try.
Melbourne Storm 12-6
40 min: FIELD GOAL ATTEMPT
Last play of the half, Cronk tries a field goal but misses. HALFTIME.. how much will those three misses by Smith haunt the Storm?
Melbourne Storm 12-6
We're back for the second half.. only forty minutes left in someone's season but who will it be? We'll find out soon!
Cherry-Evans has the ball on the tee and here we go again!
41 min: Some aggro to start the half from Manly but they take it that step too far, penalty for a dangerous tackle.
45 min: TRY
Storm shift it from their own half to Chambers who slices through and is in clear air.. he sums it up, gives it to Cronk who befuddles Stewart to score his second! Smith finally kicks one and Melbourne kick out again to a twelve point lead.
Melbourne Storm 18-6
46 min: Just ill discipline from Manly, hand all over the ball.. penalty.
48 min: Inside ball again to Slater sees him almost through but six more through a Sea Eagle touch.
48 min: It all got a little messy from the Storm but Nielsen stabs one through that earns a dropout.
49 min: Sika Manu charges back at the defense and earns a penalty from the run. Smith opts for the penalty goal.
51 min: PENALTY GOAL
Straight in front and Smith makes no mistake.
Melbourne Storm 20-6
51 min: Manly go for the short restart but the tap back from Williams goes straight to Cronk.
53 min: TRY
The shift was on again from Melbourne but it's spilled, who's there to pick it up? Jamie Lyon, he races away to keep Manly in the contest. Lyon throws over the second conversion.
Melbourne Storm 20-12
56 min: That won't help, Jason King knocking on. Melbourne will come right back onto the attack.
57 min: Stabbing kick from Cronk almost finds his winger but Taufua is there to clean up. Dropout.
57 min: Another short kick-off from Manly, it doesn't go the ten. Penalty.
58 min: That's a reprieve for Manly, knocked on from Bromwich at dummy-half.
59 min: Dear, oh dear.. knocked on from the scrum by Glenn Stewart. Melbourne will attack again.
62 min: TRY
Well disguised from Cronk, signals long and goes the short pass to Bromwich who is too big, too strong.. TRY! I think that will go a long way to extinguishing Manly's hopes this season. Smith will a conversion to make it fourteen, converts.
Melbourne Storm 26-12
64 min: Penalty for Manly, Storm players holding down too long.
65 min: Matai tries to get up too quick to play the ball, knocked on.
67 min: TRY
Scrum play from the Storm to Slater who dummies and is in the clear, despite the great chase from Oldfield, Slater is in for a double! Smith was his easiest assignment of the night, converts.
Melbourne Storm 32-12
68 min: Manly go the well again with the short kick and it's knocked on by Taufua.
69 min: Storm want to add to the Sea Eagles misery but it goes over the touchline.
70 min: Just not Manly's night. Shift to Oldfield who is roped in and tries to kick it, goes out on the full.
VIDEO REFEREE: Slater might have a hat-trick, checking the grounding.
NO TRY! Taufua spilled his lollies and Slater tried to capialise, knock on. It'll be a line dropout.
72 min: Just to heap more misery, short dropkick doesn't go ten. Smith opts for a penalty goal.
73 min: PENALTY GOAL
He makes no mistake. It's just a procession now. Melbourne WILL be Grand Finalists in 2012.
Melbourne Storm 34-12
75 min: Jason King fumbles. Storm scrum and they'll play out the last minutes.
77 min: TRY
Short side from the Storm, Slater goes to Proctor who steps through and scores to put the exclamation mark on the performance. Widdop takes over kicking duties and just squeezes it through.
Melbourne Storm 40-12
79 min: Big Melbourne chant going up around AAMI Park as the time winds down.
80 min: Just to finish how they stared.. knock on by the Sea Eagles.
80 min: FULLTIME! Melbourne are the first team into the 2012 NRL Grand Final. Dominant performance all round.