Melbourne sent a message to their top eight rivals on the eve of the finals with an emphatic 30-0 victory over the Warriors at Mt Smart Stadium.
On a night that was supposed to be all about retiring Warriors legend Stacey Jones, the Storm spoiled the party scoring six tries to nil to ensure yet another top-four finish.
Just like their season, Jones’ farewell proved an enormous let-down for the Warriors who were expected to challenge for the title but have instead finished the year way down in 14th.
Conversely, while Melbourne has struggled to assert the same dominance as they have in recent seasons they will take plenty of confidence into the play-offs after scoring 68 points and conceding just four in their last two games.
Certainly they turned on the flair across the Tasman, with fullback Billy Slater particularly impressive. Slater was everywhere for the visitors and opened the scoring after 22 minutes when he was first to a Cooper Cronk chip kick and beat Wade McKinnon on his way to the line.
While the Warriors struggled to capitalise on their opportunities, there were no such worries for the visitors and they were soon ahead 12-0 when Slater put Will Chambers into space – the centre somehow evading the defence in a 30-metres run to the line.
The Warriors battled valiantly but were no match for the class of the Storm backline.
Five minutes after the break, Melbourne’s firepower was there for all to see when Greg Inglis picked up the ball from dummy-half, broke through the line and raced 60 metres to score a scintillating solo try.
And they weren’t done yet.
Chambers scored his second following a quick blindside move down the right, Dane Nielson grabbed one untouched a few minutes later and Ryan Hinchcliffe took advantage of some brilliant lead-up work from Slater and Inglis to rub salt into the wound.
Their win sets up a mouth-watering grand final rematch with Manly next Friday at Olympic Park, with both sides finding form at the right end of the year.
The Game Swung When… Slater crossed for the opening try.
Although the final scoreline was lopsided, the Warriors were impressive for the opening 20 minutes and should have led but for some poor final passes.
However, Slater’s brilliant opener seemed to break the home side’s spirit and they were never in the game from that point onwards.
Who Was Hot… It was the usual suspects for Melbourne, with Slater and Inglis standouts with some brilliant moments throughout the game.
Slater scored a try and played a major role in three more, while Inglis’ return to top form is a huge boost heading into the finals.
Who Was Not… He may be the Warriors’ little general but Jones and his playmaking partners appeared to run out of ideas as the season wore on.
He and five-eighth Aaron Heremaia again struggled in attack – the Warriors’ best moment coming late in the first half when Jones chipped over the top for Heremaia to regather and pass back inside before the play once again broke down.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Warriors captain Micheal Luck wasn’t too pleased with what he believed to be a ‘chicken wing’ tackle in which his arm was bent back behind his head by Melbourne prop Adam Blair.
The tackle saw players from both sides rush in with a brawl threatening to erupt before referee Ashley Klein regained control.
Bad Boys… Blair was eventually put on report. He was later charged by the NRL match review committee; even with an early guilty plea he’ll miss this week’s crucial semi with the Sea Eagles.
Refs Watch… There was some doubt over the last pass to winger Dane Nielson in the lead-up to his try but referees Ashley Klein and Alan Shortall otherwise enjoyed a solid outing.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Billy Slater (Storm): Scored a try, set up three others and ran for 137 metres in a stunning return to top form; 2 points – Aiden Tolman (Storm): The young front-rower was brilliant up front with a game-high 233 metres from 27 runs; 1 point – Greg Inglis (Storm): Brushed outside distractions aside with a brilliant solo try, a try assists, two line breaks and 154 metres.
Storm 30 (W Chambers 2, B Slater, G Inglis, D Nielson, R Hinchcliffe tries; C Smith 3 goals) def Warriors 0 at Mt Smart Stadium. Crowd: 14,734.