A 79th minute Will Warbrick try has kept Melbourne’s 2023 premiership dreams alive after overcoming a gallant Roosters side 18-13 at AAMI Park on Friday.
The Roosters led 13-12 with less than two minutes to play but the Storm stole the final moments when a Cameron Munster crossfield kick ended in the hands of a leaping Warbrick, bringing 19,000 fans to their feet in Melbourne.
The semi-final victory booked the Storm a spot in their eighth preliminary final in their past nine seasons as the Melbourne powerhouse prepare for a 2020 grand final rematch against the reigning premier Panthers at Accor Stadium on Friday night.
Replacing Jahrome Hughes (calf), utility Tyran Wishart demanded a spot in Craig Bellamy’s squad to face the Panthers after scoring an early try and having a hand in several more in just his second game starting in the halves this season.
Wearing No. 21 on his back, Melbourne’s fill-in halfback Wishart proved his playmaking capabilities early with a show-and-go from close range opening the scoring for the home side.
Wishart was involved again after being on the receiving end of a Victor Radley high tackle in the 17th minute, handing Nick Meaney a chance to redeem an earlier wide conversion and extend Melbourne’s lead 6-0.
On the back of a Brandon Smith error, Melbourne marched downfield again and an Eliesa Katoa offload created an overlap for Melbourne’s right edge, putting the ball on a platter for centre Marion Seve.
The home side turned away multiple Roosters attacking raids before former fan-favourite Smith burrowed his way over from dummy half, reducing the deficit 10-6 before the break.
The Storm faithful were on their feet early in the second half with big men Christian Welch and Tom Eisenhuth breaking tackles and charging downfield but Melbourne failed to capitalise on the early field possession.
After spearheading his side’s attack all game, Radley was haunted by a Wishart high ball and gifted Melbourne the first points of the second half with Meaney slotting a penalty shot to make it 12-6 with 21 minutes to play.
Roosters rookie Sandon Smith made his presence felt instantly, coming off the bench in the 62nd minute, breaking through Melbourne’s defence and marching the ball downfield before sending a long ball for Lindsay Collins to level the score.
With the scoreboard locked and less than eight minutes to play, Roosters returning halfback Sam Walker stepped up to nail his second field goal in as many weeks.
But it was Melbourne with the last say when Munster produced a perfectly weighted kick crossfield, finding a leaping Warbrick who outmuscled Corey Allan to score in the right corner and keep the Storm’s season alive.