The Canberra Raiders have raided AAMI Park once more to eliminate the Melbourne Storm from the 2022 NRL Telstra Premiership in a frantic elimination final by 28-20.
It was 'win or go home' for these two sides in the first elimination final of this year's finals series.
Melbourne had all the early possession in the opening five minutes with several sets on the Canberra try-line. But, the Green Machine were able to weather the early storm. Remarkably, despite the lion-share of possession against them, the Raiders were able to open the scoring just minutes later. Jack Wighton was able to scoop up the offload from Joseph Tapine and race away. Despite Xavier Coates touching Wighton's cut-out pass, Xavier Savage was able to find Matt Timoko who said goodbye to Cameron Munster and after absorbing all of the early momentum, Canberra led 4-0.
Despite their strong goal-line defence, if you keep giving the Storm chances eventually you are going to crack and the Raiders crack at the midway point of the first half. It was great service from Harry Grant who found Cameron Munster and Jahrome Hughes who linked up with Marion Seve down the right and showed excellent hands to find Coates. The big winger was able to crash over the would-be tackle of Seb Kris to crash over in the corner and tie the game up at 4-4.
Off the ensuing set, Melbourne marched down the other end of the field and forced a repeat set. Off that set, Harry Grant darted out of dummy half before finding Hughes who produced an inch-perfect kick and Coates gets himself an early double to give the Storm a four-point lead. Off the back of some field position up the other end, which was as rare as Halley's Comet in the first half. Jamal Fogarty caught the Storm napping off the scrum when he skipped on the outside of Meaney and Olam to score and regain the lead.
After Felise Kaufusi obstructed the Raiders defence, it was a clever short-ball from Tapine to Elliott Whitehead and the English international crashed over to score and after being down 8-4 early, the Raiders turned a corner to lead 16-8 at the break.
Melbourne started the second half stronger and was rewarded when Munster and Hughes combined with Marion Seve who shrugged away from Sebastian Kris' attempt of tackle. Seve linked back up with Munster before he found Coates who crossed for a hattrick and reduce the gap to just two points. Melbourne's lack of an established goal kicker looked to be costly when Munster missed a chip shot penalty goal to tie the game. Harry Grant was able to isolate the Raiders' edge defence to find the giant in Nelson Asofa-Solomona and the Storm was able to hit the lead.
From there, the Raiders were able to regain some ascendancy and eventually land a big blow. A clever little grubber kick from Jack Wighton has seen Cam Munster go ice-skating and Hudson Young beats Munster to the ball first to continue his try-scoring form. Fogarty's conversion was successful and the Raiders snatched the lead again. A contentious knock-on by Asofa-Solomona was called by the referee and the Raiders clinched the game. It was a clever catch and pass from Xavier Savage that collected Kris on the head but it was not a knock on and Jordan Rapana won the race to the loose ball to score. Fogarty was cool under pressure to give the Raiders a two-possession lead.
Canberra moves onto Week 2 of the finals when they take on Parramatta in a probable Friday night time-slot at CommBank Stadium. Melbourne's season is done, but you have to hand it to them for the way they continued to battle in the face of a horror injury toll. With several big stars leaving at the end of the season, you have to wonder if that was their last chance at premiership glory for the time being.